Israel/Palestine: Trump’s Jerusalem ‘capital’ declaration provokes mass outrage

Four Palestinians killed, many hundreds wounded, rockets on Israel’s south, bombardments in the Gaza strip: Trump’s arrogant declaration is already stained with blood.

Shahar Benhorin and Yasha Marmer, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel/Palestine)

Trump’s declaration of unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while ignoring the right of the Palestinians for a state with a capital in Jerusalem, ignited a wave of protest around the world, and already has raised the death toll amongst Palestinians.

The declaration accepts the demand of the Israeli regime for unilateral recognition of divided and poverty-stricken Jerusalem as only Israel’s capital, and, in fact, recognition of the status quo of continuing occupation in east Jerusalem while denying the right of the Palestinians for a state with a capital in Jerusalem.

Trump’s decision ignited justified protests around the world and especially among the Palestinians. Tens of thousands protested in Amman in Jordan, while thousands protested in cities in the region and around the globe. Thousands of Palestinians protested in east Jerusalem, in parallel with a declared commercial strike. Thousands protested in Ramallah, with protests organised in several parts of the Gaza Strip and throughout the West Bank. Within the green line [in Israel], many thousands protested in Umm al-Fahm, and further protest marches with hundreds of participants took place in Jaljulia, Kafr Kanna, Qalansuwa, Nazareth and other towns. The High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel called for a demonstration in front of the US embassy in Tel Aviv and a country-wide demonstration in Sakhnin..

The death toll from Trump’s move may rise in the coming days and weeks, as a result of military repression of Palestinian protesters, Israeli Defence Forces retribution bombardments in the Gaza Strip, and indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians.

Before Trump’s declaration – that according to Trump and Netanyahu [Israel’s prime minister] will help to promote peace! – the US State Department ordered US diplomats to take cover and avoid unnecessary visits to Israel for two weeks out of concern for their security. The security of Palestinians and Israelis is no concern for the Trump administration and its partners in Netanyahu’s government. The readiness of Netanyahu’s government to defend the continuation of the occupation, at all costs, can by itself open now another chapter of significant and ongoing escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and aggravate regional tensions.

Israel’s prime minister, president and the leaders of establishment “opposition” parties, Avi Gabbay and Yair Lapid, praised Trump’s demagogy. The representatives of the settlers-leaning right wing interpret it as a green light for the continuation of expansion of the settlements and “Judaisation” of the Palestinian neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, for systematic house demolitions, for oppression and expropriation of Palestinians. The government is still considering annexation of the Maale Adumim settlement, to build settlements in the E1 area and to exclude tens of thousands of Palestinians from the Jerusalem municipal area. Meanwhile, the minister of housing, Yoav Gallant, who has failed to resolve the housing crisis, has already announced the building of thousands of new settlement units in east Jerusalem.

Steps that aim to prevent any possibility of establishing a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem have long had silent backup from US administrations, accompanied by only lip-service condemnations. Trump has turned the silent backup to vocal and provocative. When he says that his administration will support a two states solution, if agreed by both sides, he makes clear that he is ready to support the idea of establishment of a Palestinian state only if agreed by Israel’s government. Allegedly, Trump is not taking a position on the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. But, in fact, he gives clear backup for the continuation of the violent and unilateral takeover of the east side of the city by the Israeli regime in collaboration with the settlers’ organisations.

International reactions

Trump announced preparations for the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem according to US law that was approved by congress in 1995, against the background of the Oslo Accords. The law called for moving the US embassy and recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital. Implementation of the law was postponed again and again by presidential waiver signed every six months. Trump actually signed this waiver now, just as he did last June. He could have declared the immediate relocation of the embassy to the building of the US consulate in Jerusalem, but such a move would only sharpen the criticism against him, including from government officials in the US.

Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defence Mattis and CIA director Pompeo were among those who opposed the declaration. They were afraid, like other officials in the US establishment, that the interests of US imperialism will be damaged as a result of a resurgence of rage against the US on an international scale, damage to relations with regimes in the region, further erosion of stability in the region and weakening of the US influence on the Palestinian Authority (PA). Indeed, Trump’s move was an own-goal for US foreign policy. This was manifested by the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, by the condemnation from European governments, by the emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League in Cairo and by the declaration of the Palestinian Authority of cutting ties with the US, for the moment.

Only a handful of regimes internationally were ready to adapt to this kind of policy regarding Jerusalem: Taiwan duplicated Trump’s stance and promises to move in the same direction were made by the “mini-Trumps” of Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Philippines. Most of the world’s governments will not dare to copy Trump’s Jerusalem policy in the foreseeable future, for their own strategical considerations but also because of the significant public opposition at home to the Israeli occupation of the 1967 territories [those occupied in the 1967 war]. Even the Czech Republic emphasised in its press statement that it recognises as the capital of Israel only “Jerusalem within the 1967 borders”. This statement comes in line with the new position of Russia that declared in April that it considers west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem the capital of the future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu is bragging about a strengthening of relations with rulers around the world, but beneath the surface – in the US, Europe and elsewhere – there is a significant tendency of stronger criticism of Israeli policy. In the Middle East, though the Arab Sunni regimes are acting to tighten a strategical alliance with the Israeli state, they need to take into consideration public sentiment and widespread solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for national liberation.

“The deal of the century”

Leading up to Trump’s speech, the New York Times published that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman pressurised the PA to agree to a capitulation agreement with Israel. According which, the Palestinian capital will be located in Abu-Dis and not in east Jerusalem, the settlements will not be removed and the ‘right to return’ [of Palestinian refugees] will not be recognised. But publicly, the Saudi rulers were obligated to play a different tune. They, just like their counterparts from the Jordanian kingdom, opposed Trump’s declaration with sharp statements. They fear protest at home. Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian analyst, explained in the Financial Times [6.12.17] that the “Arab leadership will be seen as complicit in this happening. There is a growing conviction among populations that their governments are colluding with Israel.”

Trump plans to reveal in the coming months a new ‘road map plan’ that he claims will solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump is using his recent move to step up pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to accept all his dictates. This comes as Trump continues to threaten to shut down the PLO office in Washington. He argues that withholding US official backing to Israel on the issue of Jerusalem did not help to promote an agreement, so far. By this, Trump sends a message to the Palestinian leadership that if it will not fall in line with his conditions – which will need to satisfy Netanyahu’s government which refuses any recognition of a Palestinian state – the US will charge a price. However, applying pressure on the PA in such a public and harsh manner undermines even further any basis for advancement of his “deal of the century”.

Trump tears off from the face of US imperialism, once again and in particularly blunt manner, the fake mask of ‘fair broker’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until the recent declaration, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas vigorously ingratiated himself with Trump, and even stated in September: “We are on the verge of real peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis”. At the same time, the majority of the Palestinians do not believe Trump’s peace hoax and would prefer Abbas to resign from office. Now Trump has pushed senior PA leaders into a corner. Along with the freeze of relations with the US, it was reported that Abbas will refuse to meet US vice president Mike Pence who plans to visit Bethlehem during Christmas. It also looks like Abbas will decline the invitation to meet Trump in the White House, at least for now.

But the PA’s elite are in a dead-end in terms of strategy. It fears the development of mass popular protests. PA leaders are also aware that there is no other world imperialist power that would be accepted by the Israeli regime to ‘sponsor’ negotiations. Abbas may hope for sponsorship and a new initiative from Russia or the European Union, but Netanyahu’s government will refuse to collaborate with any move of this kind, as was evident around the ‘French Initiative’. The chances for renewal of direct talks between the PA and Netanyahu’s present government are low to non-existing.

As for the leaders of Hamas, they hoped, as was explained at the time by Hamas’s leader Khaled Mashal, Trump’s administration would provide the Palestinians with “special opportunity”, as it has “greater threshold for boldness” than those before it. They put their hopes in the ‘reconciliation process’ with Fatah [Abbas’s party], sponsored by Sisi’s regime in Egypt, but that process has not taken off, so far. The PA refuses to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Gaza, and Hamas refuses to disarm.

The possibility of renewed escalation of the confrontation with Israel comes as bad timing for the Hamas leaders. With the background of the crisis in Gaza, they have not been able to present any achievements in the last period. Therefore they prefer to avoid launching rockets at Israel (Salafist organisations claimed responsibility for the latest launches). Without presenting any solution for Gaza, Hamas calls for a ‘new Intifada’ [uprising] in the West Bank territories and Jerusalem, aiming to cover up for its lack of a credible strategy to take the Palestinian struggle forward.

Protest on the ground

The idea of a significant uprising against the occupation regime has had widespread support for some time among Palestinians in the 1967 territories. At the same time, there is deep pessimism regarding potential achievements in the struggle. Therefore, also taking into consideration the heavy Israeli military repression that has resulted already in the killing of two protesters and the injuring of hundreds, including with live ammunition, the scope for mass demonstrations in reaction to Trump’s declaration, particularly in the West Bank, has, so far, been limited.

Last July, an uprising of thousands of protesters in east Jerusalem managed to defeat an arrogant provocation of Netanyahu’s government – an attack on the freedom of worship and movement in the ancient city, dubbed by the Israeli press the “metal detectors crisis”. After Trump’s declaration, thousands again took to the streets in east Jerusalem, in parallel with demonstrations in other places. It is not clear, at this stage, if these Palestinian ‘rage’ protests will develop into a wider and prolonged uprising. But wide protest, on a mass scale, that will defy the dictatorship of the occupation and the settlements, is definitely necessary.

Trump and Netanyahu are ready, in the service of nationalist fanaticism and for holding to power, to deteriorate the region into more bloody turmoil. The appropriate answer is to get out and struggle against them and their disastrous agenda. Significant protests in the Palestinian territories and throughout the region, and big demonstrations within the Green Line, including joint demonstrations of Jews and Arabs against the occupation and for peace, are essential to block the warmongers and to wreck efforts to perpetuate the occupation. The struggle for peace demands a wide struggle against the occupation, and for policies in the interests of working people and the poor, on both sides of the national divide.

Netanyahu tries to seize on Trump’s declaration to divert attention not only from the just arguments of those who oppose the occupation but also from the big anti-corruption protest movement that has recently emerged against his rule and from a range of social miseries.

With the background of the international protests and in face of wild incitement and military repression against Palestinian protesters, there is a need to mobilise solidarity and widen the protests, including from within the movement against corruption in Israel and involving Israeli workers’ and students organisations.

The hypocritical propaganda that tries to portray Jerusalem as a “unified” and prosperous city that preserves the freedom of worship along with liberty and dignity for all, aims to hide the reality of deep schisms, the separation wall, checkpoints, never-ending incitement on the basis of nationality and religion, heavy discrimination, disgraceful poverty, theft of houses and land from residents, racist hate marches promoted by the state and daily abuse by by Magav [‘Border Police’, a semi-military police force] and the authorities.

As part of the struggle against the occupation and for peace, Socialist Struggle Movement calls for the establishment of two national capitals in Jerusalem, while ensuring a life of well-being, equal rights, freedom of movement, freedom of worship and freedom from religious coercion. In the context of two socialist, democratic and equal states, it will be possible to create a society that will enable the Jerusalem to genuinely flourish as pluralist city without poverty-stricken ghettos, without discrimination and without concrete walls.