Politics, Middle East
Even if events do not immediately spiral out of control, the president’s announcement will have heightened tensions and sown the seeds for future instability.
Israelis today are feeling the love from Washington and bracing themselves for trouble. As President Donald Trump announces practical steps towards moving the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he breaks with precedent in overwhelmingly embracing the Israeli government narrative of Jerusalem’s status. Israel’s security establishment is preparing to contain the fallout. Given Palestinian outrage and the Israeli leadership’s predilection for provocation, over reaction, and collective punishment of Palestinians, this could get ugly. As the veteran Israeli commentator Orly Azulai notes in Israel’s leading circulation daily Yediot, “This is not a gift that shows affection for Israel … this is a powder keg being left on our doorstep … we are the ones that will pay the price.” Even if events do not immediately spiral out of control, the president’s announcement will have heightened tensions and sown the seeds for future instability.
That a speech initiated by the White House, not demanded by events, had to include a call for calm itself speaks volumes.
The Jerusalem announcement from Washington needs to be kept in perspective. The proximate cause of insecurity and violations of human rights and international law, the actual problem in other words, is Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians on the ground not the verbal hot air from Washington. But the former is sustained and given protective cover by the latter.
It is not at all clear that this U.S. initiative has been driven by Israel’s rightist government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is of course not ideologically opposed to what the president is doing or saying, he will welcome it and declare victory. Trump’s words will also domestically empower Netanyahu at a moment of unprecedented weakness, born of the multiple corruption investigations being conducted against him alongside the heavy handed, legislatively problematic and borderline authoritarian manner of his response. But Trump’s announcement is not risk-free and the celebrations on the Israeli side of Jerusalem may prove to be hollow.
To be clear, Trump is not endangering his allies in Israel to the same degree as he is with the South Koreans. A pattern though may be emerging—this president could pose more of a threat to his allies than his adversaries.