By Nisar Ahmed Khan
US President Donald Trump is notorious for taking widely infamous and clearly dangerous policy decisions driven by ego-centrism and parochialism, the latest addition being the illegal move to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel. This reveals his utter ignorance of a complex and sensitive issue that is embroiled in politics and religion. The decision that has already set off protests and clashes threatens to undermine the ongoing and any upcoming initiatives for peace in the volatile and turbulent Middle East. The blatant disregard for international law, UN resolutions and violation of rights of the oppressed nations by head of a powerful country like the US will only embolden extremist and terrorist groups and incapacitate those who are fighting them.
Jerusalem that is held sacred by Jews and Muslims alike on religious grounds and lay claims to is the key to any peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. The roots of the current Israel-Palestine issue can be traced back to the British control of the region from 1917 to 1948, when driven by Zionist vision of an Israeli state; Jews migrated to Palestine from across the globe. In 1947, the UN came up with a partition plan that provided for two-state solution: One Arab and One Jewish while Jerusalem was to be governed by an international regime.
The plan could not be implemented as a result of subsequent wars, particularly the 1967 Arab-Israel war, which resulted in Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem. It is worth mentioning here that majority of the international community is in agreement that the 1967 occupation of Jerusalem by Israel is illegal. Due to this fact, no state recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital pending a final settlement of the issue by the UN.
Thus, by defying international community and upending decades-long policy in favor of Israel, the US has not only pressed the button to a potential Middle East catastrophe but also risks losing the status of a credible and fair broker, that is fast waning. Worst enough, this may alienate long time US allies like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq etc. and seriously undermines the fragile coalition against Islamic State group. The statements by leaders of the Muslim world condemning and lamenting US policy shift portend growing fissures in cooperation.
Such an eventuality is the last thing Middle East affords at the time when it desperately needs concerted, sincere and well-calculated steps to get rid of the myriad of crippling challenges like terrorism, civil wars, internally displaced people, refugees, humanitarian crisis etc. But unfortunately, US continues to be the bad guy and peace spoiler.
International community along with the UN has denounced the decision and expressed grave concern over the diminishing prospects of peace and stability in the Middle East but Donald Trump remains unmoved. Turkey, which is the second largest country second only to the US in terms of troops in NATO has similarly threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel after Trump’s policy shift. Turkey is already having a rough sail with the US over the issue of Kurdish forces and extradition of Fethullah Gulen. Their mutual cooperation on terrorism and Middle East peace initiatives can potentially fall apart as Trump’s decision threatens to inflame Middle East. Moreover, it may further force Turkey to join Iran-Russia alliance on Syria and other regional issues, to the chagrin of the US and western allies.
Yet another problem being exacerbated by Trump’s flawed approach to the Middle East is the revival and resurgence of religious hard-liners and extremist forces. This will overshadow the much needed moderate and democratic voices seeking peace and stability in the region.
With a little stretch of imagination and connecting dots, one can foresee deterioration of the US relations with countries beyond the Middle East. An important country at hand is Pakistan, whose cooperation in the war against terrorism in the Pak-Afghan border region is inevitable. Even European countries are increasingly irritated by Trump’s policies. Be it agreement on climate change, Iran nuclear deal, or now Jerusalem, the countries have all expressed dismay and condemnation, a bad omen for US leadership of the world.
In conclusion, Trump’s apparently impulsive decisions close the doors of negotiations and diplomacy and open the floodgates to hell.
Nisar Ahmed Khan is a Research Affiliate at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad