Reactions to Trump’s Jerusalem announcement

Dec 15, 2017

Reactions to Trump's Jerusalem announcement

Update from AIJAC

Update 12/17 #03

Following up on our previous Update analysing US President Donald Trump’s announcement that his government was keeping a campaign promise to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, this Update looks at the reaction to Trump’s announcement, particularly in the Arab world and amongst Palestinians.

We lead with American strategic analyst Ralph Peters, who notes that the “explosion” of terror and violence in the Middle East predicted in response to Trump simply has not occurred. He says the reason is that, while a similar announcement would have led to much more widespread violence a generation ago, today the Middle East has changed profoundly. Among the reasons he notes is that the Arab states have many other things to concern them besides the Palestinians, plus the reality that Israel has become an indispensable covert ally for many of the Sunni states against Iran. For Peters’ complete explanation of this “dog in the night-time that did not bark,” CLICK HERE.

Next up is Israeli academic Hillel Frisch, who notes that the strongest reaction to Trump’s announcement came from non-Arab countries like Turkey and Iran, and discusses why this is. He notes that the reactions from Sunni Arab states were “tepid and formal”  while even the Palestinians showed themselves reluctant to send their children to fight over this issue, despite calls from Hamas and the PA. He argues that the latter are actually saving their real forces for a battle against each other – and both the Palestinian street and the wider Arab world largely understood the limited importance of Trump’s announcement and that Muslim Jerusalem is not in fact under threat. For the rest of his argument,  CLICK HERE. Plus, Seth Frantzman of the Jerusalem Post reports on some of the same divisions cited by Frisch at the recent Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit on Jerusalem in Turkey – not attended by the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE. 

Finally, Shlomo Avineri, veteran Israeli senior diplomatic official and leading academic, examines the official Palestinian Authority reaction to Trump’s announcement – and argues it continues a pattern of failure on the part of the Palestinian leadership. He notes that the Palestinians refused to acknowledge or take advantage of the elements of Trump’s announcement which could help them, including his explicit call, for the first time, for a two-state solution, and the efforts to make it clear that the recognition was not meant to determine borders, opening the way to possible American acceptance of the division of Jerusalem. Avineri says even a rookie diplomat would have tried to exploit these possible openings for the Palestinian cause, but argues the Palestinian answer can be seen as part of a larger pattern of “inability to live with compromise” which has long made peace progress all but impossible. For some important insights from one of Israel’s most renowned foreign policy thinkers,  CLICK HERE.

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Why the ‘Arab street’ didn’t just explode


By Ralph Peters

New York Post, December 10, 2017 

In the wake of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, the “experts” crowding the media predicted strategic calamity: Vast, violent protests and a wave of terror would sweep the Muslim world in the coming days.

Instead, the largest demonstration anywhere this weekend was the funeral procession for Johnny Hallyday, the “French Elvis.” Nothing in the Middle East came close.

We have witnessed, yet again, the carefully phrased anti-Semitism of the pristinely educated; the global left’s fanatical pro-Palestinian bias; and the media’s yearning for career-making disasters.

A Palestinian protester throws stones at Israeli troops during a protest against President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, generally numbers were small. 

Rather than waves of protest, the waiting world got tepid statements of disapproval from otherwise-occupied Arab governments; demonstrations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that, combined, barely put a thousand activists in the streets; and yes, four deaths: two demonstrators and two Hamas terrorists hit by an Israeli airstrike.

Sunday did see a smallish protest outside the US Embassy in Lebanon, but it was hardly Benghazi under Barack Obama. Predictably, Turkish President and self-appointed sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan (officially our NATO ally) didn’t miss the chance to spew venom toward Israel, the US and Europe. But even in Turkey, things were all quiet on the Bosporus front.

An act of justice for Israel did not ignite Armageddon.

A generation ago, a US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would, indeed, have led to mass demonstrations and widespread violence. But now? While the endlessly recycled experts snoozed, the Middle East changed profoundly.

Once upon a time, the Palestinians were the only game at the propaganda casino, a marvelous tool for Arab leaders to divert attention from domestic failures. Then came al Qaeda. And Iraq. Iranian empire-building. The Arab Spring. The oil price collapse and the rise of ISIS, with its butcher-shop caliphate. The civil war in Syria, with half a million dead. And, not least, the region-wide confrontation between decaying Sunni power and rising Shia might.

Nor did it help the Palestinians that many of them sided with the Assad regime, alienating former partners from Amman to Beirut.

But by far the most significant factor is that Israel has become an indispensable, if quiet, ally of Sunni states against Iran. Although well-armed, Saudi Arabia remains inept on the battlefield, bogged down in Yemen and terrified of Iranian gains in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel doesn’t need Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia definitely needs Israel.

Nor does the United States automatically do Riyadh’s bidding these days.

As for Iran, the regional ambitions of Israel’s top enemy have ironically made it Israel’s unintentional benefactor. To the Arabs, yesteryear’s Israeli boogeyman now looks more like Caspar the Friendly Ghost. “Palestine” is so over . . .

And blame the Palestinians, not Israel, for their lack of statehood. Since the failed 1948 Arab assault on newly reborn Israel, the Palestinians have had literally dozens of opportunities for an advantageous peace. Yet even Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — no friends to the blue-and-white flag — ended up frustrated as Palestinian leaders, on the cusp of peace time and again, decided that three-quarters of the pie was insufficient.

A Palestinian call in social media to action to protect al Quds (Jerusalem) against the occupation.

Inevitably, the pie got smaller over time — but the Palestinian leadership continued to profit from “occupied” status. Now it’s too late for anything that looks like a viable Palestinian state. It’s time we all faced that reality.

In Paris this weekend for talks with the French president, Israel’s plainspoken prime minister stated that Jerusalem always has been and always will be Israel’s capital, and that the city has never been the capital of any state but the Jewish state. Trump simply recognized that moral, practical and historical truth.

And lest any reader mistake this as a partisan paean to our president, let it be noted that I am not and never have been among the president’s fans. But Trump got this one right. The reflexive condemnation of his action by the usual suspects was indecent.

As for the long-term strategic effects: We don’t know. But we do know that the cherished “peace process” doesn’t even have zombie status.

Will there be more terrorism? Sure. As there would have been more terrorism, anyway. Terrorism isn’t about us, it’s about them.

If Arab leaders refuse to let the “Palestinian question” shape their policies, why should we allow it to deform ours?

A Central Asian proverb runs that “The dog may bark, but the caravan moves on.” The hounds of appeasement have barked for generations, but the Israeli caravan kept going, arriving at the only admirable (or even livable) state in the Middle East, an island of civilization amid vast deserts of barbarism.

Last week, President Trump did some small justice to that achievement.

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst.


Article 2

Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem reflects Sunni Arab-Israeli understanding



Jerusalem Post, 12/13/2017

The strongest reactions emanated from Iran and Turkey rather than from Arab states.

President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem is a milestone in the history of the Jewish state. Yet it is also important for the reactions it elicited in the Middle East, which indicate how much the array of forces in the region has radically changed since the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006, and with even greater rapidity after the “Arab Spring.”

That the strongest reactions emanated from Iran and Turkey rather than from Arab states or even segments of Palestinian society reflects the centrality of the Iranian-Arab conflict compared to the former Israeli-Arab divide, the importance of the renewed imperialist ambitions of two former regional imperial powers, Iran and Turkey, at the expense of their Arab neighbors and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Demonstrations on Jerusalem were much larger and more widespread in non-Arab countries – like this example in Turkey – than they were in the traditional Arab heartland. 

The most dramatic headline, “Death to Israel,” was perhaps the most telling. This widely cited headline appeared in al-Mayadin, a Hezbollah media site that like Hezbollah itself is beholden to Iran. The crucial difference between Hezbollah and al-Mayadin is that the former sent its troops for over five years to fight Iran’s battle to save the Assad regime in Syria, while al-Mayadin minces words on Iran’s behalf. Iran’s imperialist reach is reflected in both by its homage to the leading religious and political figures of the Iranian revolution, and above all to its architect, Ruholla Khomeini. These icons are never featured as such by Sunni Arab political sites.

Tellingly, “Death to Israel” was not part of the rhetorical repertoire of any of the sites linked to the Arab states or even to the Palestinian Authority. Nor did any of the Sunni Arab states threaten, as did Turkey, to break diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Instead, the reactions of the Sunni Arab states were tepid and formal. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry noted that Egypt formally opposed the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi even telephoned PA President Mahmoud Abbas to express his opposition. These reactions could hardly be construed as a storm in a teapot.

Egypt’s tepidness was an obvious rejoinder to the Erdogan government’s bluster, given the deep-seated rivalry between the two leaders, their governments and their differing ideological positions, particularly regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and its world view.

Jordan was slightly more forceful. Jordan’s King Abdullah invited Abbas to Jordan, expressed his opposition and allowed government spokesperson Muhammad al-Muamni to state that “the decision encourages the continuation of occupation and harms the feelings of Muslims and Christians alike.” The Jordanian government announcement even went so far to say that the decision effectively ended the role of the US as peacemaker. Again, these were hardly words that threatened to rock the boat either in Jordan’s relations with Israel or with the US.

Even Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who holds office with the blessing of his Iranian mentors and is in alliance with Hezbollah, reacted in a mild and by now trite way. Arab states, he urged, should strengthen the Arab character of Jerusalem. He added that Arab states should pressure the US to rescind its decision.

The greatest surprise, however, was the reaction of the Palestinian silent majority, expressed in al-Quds, by far the most popular site and newspaper in the PA.

Hours before Trump’s declaration, the only coming storm it featured as a headline related to the actual weather. The PA and Hamas might have wanted the man in the street to fight and die for the cause while they keep their ministries and troops from harm’s way, but it was obvious that the Palestinian majority was loath to send their children to fight these warring sides’ battle.

For all the fiery rhetoric from Iran and its proxies, it was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, of all people, that calmed US officials in Washington, DC, and Israeli decision-makers in Jerusalem.

He called on Arab foreign ministers (most of whom loath him and his organization) to immediately recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, signaling that this was to be a war of words rather than missiles and over-the-border attacks.

Somewhere between bluster and inaction lies the response of the PA and Hamas. The PA closed down the school system to encourage Palestinian youth to confront Israeli troops, likely in the hope that some would be killed, as a means of escalating violence even more. Yet, many Palestinians are not fooled. The PA is committing youth to the confrontations, not its own security forces or even officials. Security cooperation between Israel and the PA against Hamas, the common enemy, will continue unabated.

Similarly, Hamas will be glad to see Palestinian youth die facing the Israeli security fence (after the numerous IDF verbal warnings, followed by warning shorts, not to get near the fence). Like the PA, however, it will desist from armed attacks under or above ground.

The reaction of both means that the task of mobilizing Palestinian youth more difficult. Like soldiers, many Palestinian youth will only take the very heavy risks of confronting the IDF and the Israel Police if they feel that those calling for such sacrifice are placing themselves at risk, which the PA and Hamas aren’t. They are right. The PA and Hamas are preserving their troops for the showdown between them rather than wasting them against Israel.

Palestinians lost their faith in the Arab states long ago. Now, they are coming round to the same truth regarding Turkey and Iran. Turkish and Iranian bluster will hardly help the Palestinian youth who are enjoined to do battle for the sake of Muslim Jerusalem in their confrontations with Israeli security forces. Maybe these youths will come around to acknowledge that Israel never threatened Muslim Jerusalem in the first place.

The author is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (www.jiss.org.il).


Article 3

The uncompromising Palestinians


One could have expected a different response to Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem from Palestinian leadership, if only it was attentive to claims other than its own


By Shlomo Avineri 

Haaretz, Dec. 12, 2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offers a press conference after the extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul (Turkey) on December 13, 2017. Abbas and other Palestinian leaders missed the opportunity to emphasise the positive opportunities in Trump’s statement. 

Prof. Elie Podeh discussed the Palestinian and Arab refusal to accept the UN Partition Plan of November 29, 1947 in his article (“Their biggest missed opportunity,” Opinion, November 30), and even provided a long list of other Palestinian missed opportunities – all of which have led the Palestinian national movement to its nadir of today. Even if Abba Eban’s statement “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” is too much of a generalization, it is still worth going back and reflecting on it these days.

It is clear that the Palestinians were disappointed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that he will move the U.S. Embassy there. But the official Palestinian response reflects once again a number of failures that have led to politically catastrophic decisions.

While the Israelis are celebrating, justifiably, over Trump’s decision, it is impossible to ignore that his speech included statements that without a doubt displease the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump said explicitly that recognizing Jerusalem and moving the embassy do not in any way determine the borders and the United States supports the two-state solution – if it is acceptable to both sides.

The Palestinian response ignored these two statements, which in practice say that as far as the final agreement is concerned, the Trump administration’s stance is not significantly different than the position of previous American administrations. Without a doubt, they were included in Trump’s announcement to soften Arab opposition, especially that of Saudi Arabia.

A responsible Palestinian leadership that strives to reach an agreed upon solution and does not make do with aggressive rhetoric could have seized on these statements. Only the Palestinian unwillingness to understand that if a solution is found, it will realistically have to be a compromise formula and not the fulfillment of all their demands, prevented the Palestinian leadership from relating to these aspects of Trump’s speech, which were actually quite opportune for them.

One could have expected a different response from the Palestinian leadership, if only it was attentive to claims other than its own. It could have praised Trump for mentioning for the first time – yes, the first time – the two-state solution and expressing his support for it. Moreover, from the Palestinians’ perspective it was also possible to applaud the statement that the recognition and moving of the embassy did not mean the determination of borders. They could have interpreted this as American willingness to accept the division of Jerusalem.

They could even have added that in such a case, Jerusalem could be the capital of two countries, Israel and Palestine, and the Palestinians would happily promote the establishment of an American embassy in their state in East Jerusalem.

Instead, the Palestinian leadership attacked the United States and its president, declared that America cannot be an honest broker, threatened to boycott the visit to the region by Vice President Mike Pence, and announced that Trump’s speech irreversibly buried the two-state solution.

Every rookie diplomat and politician knows that the first thing that must be done in response to the statements of an external body is to emphasize those aspects that are convenient for you and only afterward disagree with what is unacceptable. The Palestinians did exactly the opposite, and in doing so bolstered the Israeli achievement.

This response, which joined a long list of historic missed Palestinian opportunities, was not the result of stupidity or a lack of experience. It seems its roots can be found in the inability to live with compromise, which characterizes the Arab political discourse in general.

The absolute faith in its own righteousness is what prevented the Arab world from accepting the UN Partition Plan in 1947, and it is what prevented Yasser Arafat from accepting Anwar Sadat’s pleas to join him on his visit to Jerusalem and his speech to the Knesset. One can only imagine how history would be different if Arafat, too, had come to the Knesset in November 1977.

Zionism’s moral legitimacy is encapsulated in Chaim Weizmann’s canonical statement that the conflict isn’t between justice and injustice, but between two parties which both have justified claims, and therefore compromise is the only possible fair solution.

The Palestinians sometimes claim that they have already made their compromise, and the proof of this is their willingness to accept the 1967 lines. But this, of course, is a deception: The 1967 lines weren’t the result of a Palestinian willingness to compromise, but of the failure of their attempt to prevent implementation of the partition plan. It’s just like the Israeli claim that Israel’s compromises should be limited to its concession of the land on the other side of the Jordan River. That, too, is arrant nonsense, because this wasn’t a Zionist concession, but the result of Britain’s decision not to apply the Balfour Declaration’s principles, which were incorporated into the Mandate for Palestine, to the other side of the Jordan.

Concessions are made in the here and now, over something you actually possess. That is what Israel needs to do; hence the debate within Israeli society. And that’s also what the Palestinians will need to do if and when it becomes possible to reach an agreement, one in which both sides will consent to difficult compromises. 

This unwillingness to make compromises also explains Arab societies’ failure to develop democratic systems of government, which are based entirely on compromise, on the understanding that there is more than one legitimate opinion and that people who think differently than you must be respected. In the Arab political conversation, anyone who disagrees with you is too often considered a traitor or a foreign agent or part of a conspiracy. This makes it hard to accept a multiparty system or a compromise between two national movements. The Palestinians are demanding that Israel give up control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but they insist that their demands be accepted in full (including their demand for a “right of return”). This doesn’t bode well for the future of the negotiations, and the uncompromising Palestinian response to Trump’s announcement also does nothing to advance a historic compromise between the two national movements.




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