O Jerusalem! What a completely unnecessary provocation

Yonden Lhatoo argues that Donald Trump’s policy shift on Israel’s capital should not actually change the reality on the ground, but its architects are responsible for the fallout nevertheless in a world ruled by emotions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 10:53pm

If only everyone would take a step back and let reason prevail over rage after US President Donald Trump’s rather nebulously worded and clumsily delivered declaration recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

But that’s wishful thinking in this age of chip-on-the shoulder ideology, where hair-trigger emotions rule responses, reason be damned.

The deadly backlash has already begun in the Middle East as Palestinians who feel betrayed by the purported peacemakers in their halls of power take to the streets, and the Arab and Muslim worlds share their outrage.

Trump’s announcement that he is relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a dangerous provocation, no doubt, but is it really a repudiation of the Palestinian dream of a separate state with East Jerusalem as its capital?

“This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality,” Trump declared. “It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

The “right” part may be debatable, but he’s not wrong about the reality on the ground.

West Jerusalem has been under Israeli control – justified or not – since the city was divided in 1949, a year after the establishment of an independent Jewish state. East Jerusalem – home to the most sacred sites of Judaism, Islam and Christianity – was captured during the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed later in a move that has never been recognised internationally.

The fact is, neither the Palestinian Authority nor all the countries that recognise Israel dispute its authority now over the western sector.

West Jerusalem already houses Israel’s legislature, foreign ministry and prime minister’s office, to name a few institutions.

It’s also worth noting that the site allocated for Washington’s future embassy is still in West Jerusalem. And the US consulate was shifted in 2010 from East Jerusalem to its current site straddling the 1949 demarcation.

All this lends credence to the argument that Israel’s practical sovereignty over the western sector and its right to set up its capital there is illogically held hostage by its contested occupation of the eastern side.

Why is China so worried about Trump recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

It would have helped if Trump had specified that he was technically recognising only West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, when making the all-important clarification: “We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.”

Of course Trump, being Trump, made no such distinction, leaving everyone to flip out.

We don’t know if he decided to drop the bombshell out of a true desire to resurrect, Lazarus-like, a long-dead peace process. That’s between him and the god he professes to worship.

What we can be sure of is that he is pandering to the Bible-thumping evangelical voter base that was instrumental in bringing him to power. There are more than 50 million of them in the United States, most of whom take the fire and brimstone chapters of the Old Testament literally, with prophecies of doomsday events and clashes of civilisations, Jerusalem at the epicentre.

You could say Trump is merely delivering the pound of flesh owed to them, but at what cost to the rest of the world?

He’s already stirred up a hornets’ nuclear nest on the Korean Peninsula, unnecessarily provoking and further unhinging a dictator with a finger on the button. Now he’s opened up a new front in the birthplace of Jesus without any real strategy to contain the fallout.

As I write this, I’m reminded that Christmas is nearly upon us, with the usual barrage of festive tunes rubbing it in. Wish I could feel the spirit, but the weather outside is truly frightful.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post.