The US President Donald Trump has given a landmark speech this week recognizing Jerusalem as a capital of Israel. It clearly demonstrates Trump attempting to distinguish himself from other recent Presidents as a leader of action over talk. As part of this recognition, he has given instructions to begin the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Trump has seized on a situation of flux in the Middle East with fragmented alliances across the Arab world, and changing Palestinian alliances, much of which he is responsible for with the strengthening of ties with the Saudis and the destruction of IS in the region. In the past, such as when George W. Bush wanted to make a similar move, organized resistance made it impossible. Trump has taken advantage of current developments where many of the obstacles have been removed.
It is important for each of the relevant actors to respond to this with a clear strategy and a rational plan, as the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict tells us temporary situations often end up being permanent. It must also take into account that this is an isolated move by the US, rather than an international one and could isolate the US in the region rather than enhancing their influence. The strategy to counter this announcement should focus on preventing other countries to adopt the same position.
As a unilateral move by the US, control of Jerusalem remains an international issue, with recognition of its Christian and Muslim heritage. This means there is still an opportunity to rally international support and cooperate with influential stakeholders who are opposed to Trump’s decision, such as the Vatican.
The current situation in the Middle East situation shows that new protagonists can play a wider role that can assist in breaking the exclusivity of US patronage of the peace process. This would require greater engagement from key EU countries such as France and Germany, as well as a major role for Russia whose integral role in Syria has positioned it as a key player in the region.
Russia has the advantage of being an ally to Israel, strong ties with Arab countries, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated a clear intention to act as a protector of Christianity, positioning himself strongly for a major role in the Arab-Israeli peace process.
In order to contain the risk of Trump’s position spreading, the Palestinians must put their conflict and differences aside to take a unified stance and work together to manage the risk.
There are also risks for the US if Trump’s intentions are to send a signal that the US is going to play a greater role in the Middle East. This move could trigger greater destabilization and create security risks for countries in the region and may trigger US allies to question whether it is better for them to maintain that alliance or look for new supporters and allies that promote greater stability rather than conflict.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh