Possible Scenarios for Trump's Position on Jerusalem
الاثنين, 15 كانون الثاني (يناير), 2018
Possible Scenarios for Trump's Position on Jerusalem
Policy Committee at Masarat
31 December 2017
This paper reviews possible scenarios in the wake of the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, given that the background to that decision represents a qualitative shift in the US position. US president Donald Trump’s position has transformed historical pro-Israeli bias into full partnership with the Israeli occupation. This paper also examines the ramifications of the change in the policy that the US has pursued for decades.
This paper also recommends measures that can be taken in response to the US measure with the purpose of foiling the attempts it entails to change the goal of achieving an unbalanced settlement into one of liquidating the Palestinian Cause.
The first scenario: Trump adheres to his decision
This scenario assumes that Trump will adhere to his decision on Jerusalem, leading to increased support for the Israeli government, because his rule is based on support from pro-Israeli Zionist and Christian-Zionist lobbying groups. The latter number up to 80 million Americans, and constitute the base that allowed Trump to win the White House, and that may allow him to complete his term of office.
Trump’s failure to back down on the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will also exacerbate his dilemma, which manifests itself as an inability to keep most of his electoral campaign pledges, and the difficulties he faces because of the ongoing investigations into Russia’s role in the US presidential election.
This scenario is very likely, given that the Arab reaction to the US decision conformed to expectations, unlike the Palestinian and international reactions, which proved to be more wholehearted and exceeded expectations. It seems that the official Arab reaction has reached its limits and can be contained. No Arab summit was held, the resolutions taken at the meeting of Arab foreign ministers can be classified as half-hearted and there are no plans to file a complaint against the US in accordance with Article 27 of the UN Charter, notwithstanding the fact that such a complaint has scant prospects of success because other members of the Security Council would not support it for fear that it would create a precedent that could be subsequently used against them. However, resorting to filing such a complaint is just as necessary as applying for full membership of the Security Council – although this is also likely to be vetoed – to demonstrate a serious and determined Palestinian and Arab will to keep up the battle till the end.
There is no serious Arab willingness, nor are there any calls to make use of political, economic and diplomatic pressure tactics. There is no talk of withdrawing ambassadors, or even recalling them for consultations, or of an economic boycott at any level, or even of freezing already concluded or planned deals. No Arab countries have declared plans to boycott US vice president Mike Pence’s expected tour of the region – which was postponed – as the Palestinian president has done.
Furthermore, the Arab states have not adopted the Palestinian position that the US is no longer a sponsor or mediator in the “peace process”, even though what is required is a change in the entire process, particularly its terms of reference, rather than simply a change of its sponsor.
The operative position of the Arab states, particularly the Gulf states, can be summarized as follows: a rejection of Trump’s decision, without considering that as a declaration of war on the US, because the US is needed to confront Iran, and the Palestinians need it because it is the only party capable of pressuring Israel. The Bahraini foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmad Al Khalifah went even further by referring to the case of Jerusalem as “marginal”.
In such a situation, the dilemma is that Washington will continue to pressure the Palestinians and the Arabs, rather than Israel, for as long as the Arab situation remains unchanged. Therefore, if Jerusalem is to be protected, the only choice is to remain determined to foil the US decision.
On the other hand, the protests over the Jerusalem decision, despite their significance, did not escalate into a full-blown intifadah that would forge a new path in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and make it incumbent on several Arab and international parties to once again deal with the Palestinian cause as the key to stability in the region, and contributing to strengthening Arab and international positions that would pressure the Trump administration into reconsidering its decision.
There are several reasons for the failure to escalate into a full intifadah, foremost of which are Israeli measures to repress and contain the popular protests, particularly in Jerusalem, and the absence of an official national Palestinian position to enhance, organise and develop popular resistance activities. To the contrary, there is fear in official Palestinian circles that such resistance could escalate. Such fear is evidenced by the fact that resistance activities were not organised, that no decision was taken to reconsider the relation between the Palestine National Authority (PNA) and the occupying Israeli state in accordance with the March 2015 resolutions of the PLO’s Central Committee. It is also evidenced by the failure to formulate a political and resistance strategy that enjoys national consensus to confront the US decision and its ramifications, and by excluding any role by nationalist institutions and active forces, particularly the Executive Committee of the PLO, from the decision-making process.
The second scenario: Trump reverses his decision
This scenario assumes that Trump reverses his decision explicitly or implicitly by offering an explanation that it means recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or by supporting the two-state solution as a single concept, or saying it is part of a wider perception that includes the two-state solution as the outcome of a negotiating process of all final status issues in accordance with previously agreed mechanisms and references.
This scenario is being presented because of widespread opposition to the US decision and the possibility that it might continue and escalate. However, it is an unlikely scenario, because Trump issued it after realising for certain that the Palestinians would not agree to the US plan he was preparing and had been promising since he took office. The outlines of that plan have become clear to a considerable extent, although it has not been officially proposed. So Trump chose to impose it by creating facts on the ground – making recognition of such a fait accompli as a reference for a political solution instead of international law and UN resolutions that affirm the most minimal Palestinian rights unavoidable.
The “fait accompli reference” includes all issues pertaining to the final settlement. US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the occupying state, which classifies the city as “Greater Jerusalem” is one such issue. “Greater Jerusalem” comprises around 10 per cent of the West Bank, and thus has a bearing on the issues of borders, settlements and water. By the same token, attempts have been underway for a long time to liquidate the issue of refugees, as could be observed from Clinton’s criteria, which included several choices, but not the return of the refugees to their homes. Another indication is provided by calls for an agreed resolution of the refugee issue based on Resolution 194 in accordance with the Arab peace initiative, and the fact that attempts are underway to get rid of the phrase “Resolution 194”, and to focus on settling the refugees in their current locations, facilitate their emigration to third countries, compensate them and move some of them to an expanded Gaza Strip.
An explicit or implicit US reversal of the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is very important, but it is insufficient, because a return to the situation before that declaration means a return to a process without peace, a process for which the reference is negotiations and what the two sides agree. Hence Israel has the upper hand in that process.
The third scenario: Containment of the positions that reject the US decision
This scenario assumes that Trump does not reverse his decision, and that the status quo persists, in the hope that time will mitigate the Palestinian position. This possibility is likely because the Palestinian, Arab and international reaction to the decision did not peak. In other words, a comprehensive popular Palestinian uprising did not break out, no suitable political environment was created to foster such an uprising as evidenced by the fact that the Palestinian leadership did not adopt a new and completely different political approach, simply adhering to the peace process while rejecting US sponsorship of that process, or, in some statements, rejecting US monopolisation of such sponsorship. This, in spite of the fact that the peace process under exclusive US sponsorship has been underway for decades, and has resulted in political, economic and security relations with Israel that cannot be easily abandoned.
The prospects of this scenario are strengthened by the fact that the Palestinian leadership, which is the (legally) authorised decision-maker, has not met to date (the PLO Executive Committee and the PLO Central Committee). The large meeting of 18 December in which scores participated, including Executive and Central Committee members, the acting secretary-generals of the factions, security agency leaders, media spokes people and others, was not a proper leadership meeting, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad were not present. Moreover, the meeting lasted only one hour, and it neither issued any decisions, nor even a statement. The outcome amounted to nothing more than the president’s opening speech, in which he reiterated his position, and said that he had signed a decision to join 22 international organisations, without naming them.
The above means that the president is still studying his options, and does not want to restrict himself, although activating institutions with the participation of parties from across the political spectrum from within and outside the PLO would strengthen the Palestinian position and make it more difficult for the US, Israel and others to bypass it and ignore it. The president need not fear that others would try to outdo him, or to push for rash action. The situation is so critical that the Palestinians collectively understand, albeit to varying degrees, that it would be highly dangerous to engage in concessions or adventures.
Naturally, the seriousness and delicate nature of the situation cannot be underestimated, nor can the significance of the official and popular Palestinian reaction of refusing to meet with representatives of the US administration. However, if that reaction remains within its current limits, it will not prompt Trump to reverse his decision. Moreover, a simple reversal is insufficient. Before Trump’s declaration, the so-called “peace process” was in intensive care, and it was resumed once every few years to test the extent of the Palestinian Authority’s developing tendency to accept Israeli conditions and dictates, and when it became clear that it was unwilling or unable to accept them, the process would be frozen once again. At the same time, Israel’s trajectory towards the right and extremism continues, as does the colonialist expansion of settlements and the Judaization and Israelization of the occupied lands, particularly Jerusalem, as Israel implements its policy to fully turn its occupation into a a fait accompli, thus rendering a settlement on Israeli terms increasingly plausible and practically possible, and encouraging the Trump administration and others to use it as a reference for resolving the Palestinian cause by liquidating it.
The president’s position following president’s Trump decision is important, and merits support. However, it cannot stand, and will collapse if it persists within its current limits, as inter-Palestinian divisions persist and deepen, despite superficial attempts at reconciliation, and the persistence of punitive measures against Gaza, the continued absence of institutions at all levels and the president’s continued control of all powers.
If the Central Council meets in such an atmosphere, it will either simply serve as a precedent to absorb popular anger and send a tactical message to Israel and the world, or a disagreement will erupt over its timing, venue, agenda, participants, the manner of their participation (Hamas – Islamic Jihad) and guarantees that its resolutions will not meet the same fate as the resolutions previous Central Council meetings. This will lead to a boycott by some, and the meeting will not achieve the required national consensus.
In that regard, an honest dialogue should be held about which resolutions it would be possible to implement, and which resolutions cannot be implemented. This necessitates setting aside unrealistic expectations. If the previous resolutions of the Central Council are impossible to implement from the perspective of the president, he should put forward his own opinion so that a common position comprising achievable goals can be forged in order to bring about the required radical change.