Trump’s created another fine mess — with Israel caught in the middle

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased with President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased with President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Getty Images

JERUSALEM — President Trump’s festive recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel sparked an outburst of joy here. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, obviously delirious by the declaration, equated it with no less than the “major moments in the history of Zionism: the Balfour Declaration, the founding of the state, the liberation of Jerusalem.”

However, when the dust settled, it turned out that the declaration wasn’t such a great present to Israel. As a matter of fact, it complicated the situation of Israel in two important arenas: It drove the Palestinians — Israel’s partners to any future peace deal — into despair; and it raised a worldwide opposition to the move, putting Israel in the eye of the storm.

Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, who has been polling Palestinian public opinion for the past 25 years, ran a poll immediately after Trump’s declaration. He recently summarized his findings at the Jerusalem Press Club: “More than 90 percent view the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel as a threat to Palestinian interests and the largest percentage demands a strong response that includes a return to an armed intifada. Moreover, the overwhelming majority does not trust Trump’s peace intentions, nor trust the major Arab allies of the U.S., and 70 percent demand Abbas’ resignation.”

Those interested in weakening the Palestinians and perhaps driving them to the point where they give up their dream of having a state of their own, might welcome Shikaki’s findings. This is what Netanyahu has in the back of his mind, I guess, while his coalition government allies from the right say it openly. No wonder they hailed Trump’s declaration — it serves their agenda of scrapping the two-state solution.

I’m afraid, though, that the Trump declaration on Jerusalem will backfire on Israel on its Palestinian front. As shown by Shikaki’s poll, the declaration proved to Palestinians that they have no one they can trust — definitely not the United States, which with its own hands buried the façade of an honest broker; not the Arab states that once again proved that they couldn’t care less about their Palestinian brothers and sisters; and not even their own leader, Mahmoud Abbas. It seems, however, that it has not weakend their resolve. Rather, it has hardened of their position, with their desired option being another armed intifada.

If, on the other hand, Trump’s declaration does move the Palestinians do give up hope for their own state, then again this is bad news for Israel. This means that between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there will be eventually one state with equal numbers of Arabs and Jews. In that case, Israel will either lose its Jewish nature or its democracy.

Trump’s Jerusalem declaration wasn’t a blessing for Israel in the international arena, either. The European Union was the first to voice its opposition, and at the U.N. General Assembly last week, an overwhelming majority expressed its dismay with the declaration. Israel, by association, was put in an awkward position, where a problem not of its making is positioning it for confrontation with so many countries, some of them friends of Israel.

If this were not bad enough, Trump’s warning that he would punish countries that might vote against the United States in the General Assembly puts Israel in a bad spot again. The open, bombastic way in which Netanyahu embraced Trump’s declaration — “I told him: ‘My friend, the president, you are going to make history.’ ” — makes Israel an accomplice to a fight Trump is now picking with so many countries around the world. Not to mention that, in general, being perceived as a twin brother of Trump doesn’t boost the popularity of Netanyahu — or of Israel globally.

President Trump, who keeps promising the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians, could have served this cause better by adding to his declaration a phrase saying that when that deal is finally made, the Palestinians would have their capital in East Jerusalem. Both the Palestinians and the rest of the world would have welcomed it. Now, it remains to be seen how he and his representatives in the region fix the mess he has created.