As the Gaza death toll mounts, France and Turkey want the US president to change his mind over recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is expected to reject an invitation to meet Donald Trump in Washington, amid a strong emerging consensus among key advisers that there are “no conditions” for dialogue following the US president’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The issue of how best to respond to Trump’s announcement is at the centre of a series of emergency meetings of senior Palestinian leaders, which began on Saturday. They are expected to conclude early next week with a rare meeting of the PLO central council, and have already concluded that Abbas should not meet vice president Mike Pence when he visits Israel and Palestine just before Christmas.
The fraught Palestinian deliberations – which are taking place amid widespread Muslim and international anger over Trump’s unilateral move that broke international diplomatic consensus – come as Palestinian medical sources confirmed two members of Hamas had been killed in an Israeli air strike following a missile launch from Gaza, bringing the death toll in the last two days to four.
Despite widespread fury, however, the Palestinian leader has been caught between his anxiety to avoid an escalation of violence, amid calls by some for a new intifada – or uprising – and his need to make a meaningful response.
But in a boost for Abbas, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and France’s Emmanuel Macron agreed they would work together to try to persuade the United States to reconsider its decision, following a phone call focusing on the risks to stability in the region.
The conversation between Erdoğan and Macron followed hard on the heels of a meeting of the UN security council in which an isolated US struggled to defend accusations from European countries that its action was in breach of UN resolutions.
And as the diplomatic crisis continued, an increasing chorus of voices was asking precisely what Trump had actually achieved, as evidence of damage to the US standing in the Middle East and international forums continued to mount.
If there was one place at the weekend where no doubt had been allowed to enter, however, it was in Trump’s estimation of what he had achieved. On Thursday, as he greeted his guests to mark the Jewish new year, he indulged himself again with a moment of invited congratulation.
“Well, I know for a fact there are a lot of happy people in this room,” he told the guests, before adding to a ripple of applause: “Jerusalem.”
While Trump has been basking in both self- and mutual admiration of his decision to upend decades of US foreign policy by recognising Jerusalem – a city claimed both by Israelis and Palestinians – as the Israeli capital, across the Middle East US diplomats, their families and other citizens were contemplating the coming holidays in a region suddenly more hostile to America.
In Jordan and elsewhere – according to reports – diplomats’ children were advised not to go to school, other movements were heavily restricted and meetings cancelled as the anger over a 13-minute speech continued to reverberate in flag burnings and demonstrations.
In Israel – beyond the euphoria of the rightwing political elites – the decision was greeted with little more than an anxious shrug, the rain-slicked streets of west Jerusalem empty of celebrations even in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s declaration.
Instead, the emotional energy has been concentrated almost exclusively on a single side – the sense of outrage among Palestinians and the wider Muslim community that Trump had sought to give away something that was not his to give.
In recent years there has been a wave of stabbing attacks attributed in part to fears that Israel planned to change the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, and there were two weeks of street protests this summer after Israel installed metal detectors at the entrances to the same site following a lethal attack in the same compound.
“Jerusalem is a time bomb,” explained Hamdi Dyab, a Palestinian activist in Shuafat refugee camp, the only camp within the city’s municipal limits last week, on the evening of Trump’s speech.
“This is an unprecedented escalation by the US president and it will detonate a third intifada. History will not have seen an intifada like this. Unfortunately it will jeopardise the interest of the US and the lives of US people all over the world if he does this.
“The declaration has destroyed the peace process and all the agreements that have been signed. This will be met with a wave of public reaction.
“The day before yesterday we met with Mr Abbas and we told him, as the people of Jerusalem we had won the 14 days of protests over al-Aqsa mosque [over the Israeli installation of metal detectors] and we are telling the Americans that, as the people who ran those protests, Jerusalem will always stay Islamic with its heritage and its culture.
“We had a meeting between all the Palestinian factions in Ramallah headed by Fatah, and Hamas also. If Trump declares Jerusalem as capital of Israel an intifada will spread all over the West Bank and also including the green line.”
For many Palestinians last week – already deeply disillusioned with the international policies of the weak and ageing Abbas – Trump’s speech was seen as final evidence of failure.
Even those not critical suggested the time had come for a new approach. “Abu Mazen [Abbas’s nickname] is 83 but it is time to take a courageous decision and write his name in history. They have left no choice for him. All he can do is lead a third intifada,” said Sheikh Abdullah al-Qam, a coordinator of the Jerusalem committee representing Palestinian factions in east Jerusalem.
And while Israel so far does not see the risk of Abbas’s Fatah party taking the kind of active role seen during the second intifada, what it does fear is that Hamas – which called for an intifada last week – might seek to exploit anger to bolster its own position.
More likely still, security officials fear, is a return to the sporadic deadly violence of the wave of knife attacks, often launched by Palestinian individuals without warning, that only recently died down.
Another unintended consequence, and potentially more serious, is how Trump’s move will affect a wider region where Sunni Arab allies have complained about America’s declining influence even as Russia and Iran have rapidly extended theirs. In the final analysis, there is only one clear beneficiary of Trump’s controversial speech, as Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, argued in a commentary on Friday. In it, he wrote that Trump had both helped Benjamin Netanyahu deflect attention from a series of corruption investigations, and reflected a US shift in focus from the Middle East to Asia.
“Trump didn’t give the Palestinians anything in return,” wrote Benn, “and even weakened America’s commitment to the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.
“Netanyahu knows that Israel’s existence and security depend on US support, so he fears an American withdrawal. But he also knows that Israel can’t stop this process or even delay it, so instead he’s trying to mine it for opportunities to improve Israel’s position in its uncompromising conflict with the dying Palestinian national movement. Trump’s speech on Wednesday was just such an opportunity.”
Writing for the Israeli site Walla, Amir Oren was even more damning, warning that Trump’s declaration would have a “cost in blood”, either in the form of a “Trump intifada” or in a series of terror attacks.
“Every needless fatality that follows in the wake of this childish whim … will be Trump’s responsibility, and indirectly the responsibility of those who encouraged him, by action or inaction.
Source: The Guardian