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Cost of capital

Sukumar Muralidharan | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on December 22, 2017
Raise a flag: In the wake of the Jerusalem decision, the US and Israel have devised a strategy of changing the subject by mobilising insecure Gulf regimes against Iran

Raise a flag: In the wake of the Jerusalem decision, the US and Israel have devised a strategy of changing the subject by mobilising insecure Gulf regimes against Iran   -  Reuters

Trump’s Jerusalem pronouncement is the outcome of the convergence of right-wing extremism in the US and Israel

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said it without a touch of irony. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was merely making good on a 22-year-old promise. For all the fuss and furore, the decision did nothing to impair US capacity to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, said Haley, simply because no other party enjoyed similar credibility with both sides.

Few seemed to be listening. An otherwise docile Palestinian National Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, declared the suspension of all contact with the US. And the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, mobilised into action by a newly-assertive Turkey, demanded recognition of East Jerusalem as capital of Palestine.

The UN Security Council met within a fortnight after an effort at lobbying by Egypt. A resolution expressing “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem” won the support of 14 of the 15 Security Council members.

US isolation was complete and Haley warned that the “insult” would not be “forgotten”. As the resolution headed to the General Assembly after the predictable veto, Haley warned that the US would be watching and “taking names” of those who voted for it.

Trump’s decision is the predictable outcome of a convergence of right-wing extremism in the two countries. It follows the template set in 2004 when Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel and had an American President of almost Trump-like insensitivity to deal with.

In 2004, the Palestinian intifada triggered by Sharon’s walk-about in Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque had been quelled, but the larger US-led effort to reorder the political map was in disarray. That was when Sharon made his big move. In exchanges with US President George Bush, he explained how his intended withdrawal from Gaza would be a crucial step forward.

Bush responded in a predictable gush, assuring Israel that it would enjoy full rights to “defend itself” and retain its “control of airspace, territorial waters, and land passages of the West Bank and Gaza”. Given further that “new realities on the ground” had emerged, including “major Israeli populations centres”, it would be “unrealistic to expect... a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949”.

Effectively, this was the shredding of every pretence of a just peace affirmed since 1967. In an October 2004 interview, done with the intent to placate dissent led by Sharon’s Likud party rival Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s senior political adviser Dov Weisglass explained the basic intent of the Gaza withdrawal. “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” he said, referring to the agent used to preserve lifeless organisms: “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde… necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”. With this device, Israel would “prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem”. Israel would enjoy the full “authority and permission” of the US in this, “with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress”.

Sharon proved unable to bring Likud opposition in line and in November 2005, quit to form his own party. Further prosecution of his grand plan was stalled when he went into a vegetative state after a stroke in January 2006.

US oversight and patronage was held in abeyance when it had to turn its attention to Syria and Iran after the larger plan for the region ran into severe headwinds. Syrian forces were compelled to withdraw from Lebanon, but without earning the US any military dividend. In the summer of 2006, Israel carried out a 33-day campaign of air strikes and a ground invasion in Lebanon to eliminate the Iran-aligned Hezbollah militia. That campaign, an official Israeli inquiry concluded two years later, was an abject military failure.

Sharon’s successor Ehud Olmert did make a final effort to revive the plan when Bush visited as part of Israel’s 60-year anniversary. Touting the unconditional endorsement of the world’s sole superpower, Olmert promised an early deal with the Palestinians. But the plan lapsed when Olmert lost the 2009 election and was taken away to jail for corruption, while Bush in 2008 went into oblivion amidst historically disastrous poll numbers.

President Barack Obama recognised the situation of spreading chaos he inherited as effectively ruling out the unilateral plan. The eight years of his presidency were a time of estrangement with Netanyahu — now restored to political centre-stage and happy to embrace the Sharon plan — lobbying openly with the Republican right-wing against official US policy.

The return of bumbling cluelessness to the White House with Trump now gives Netanyahu a clear field. In the wake of the Jerusalem decision, the US and Israel have devised a strategy of changing the subject by mobilising insecure Gulf regimes against Iran. Despite making all the right public noises over Jerusalem, the Saudi monarchy is seemingly coordinating Iran strategy with Israel. In November, as widely reported, Saudi crown prince Mohammad summoned Mahmoud Abbas to Riyadh to serve him a peace plan almost as an ultimatum: a Palestinian state in a scattered patchwork of non-contiguous territory in the West Bank, Israeli control in perpetuity over East Jerusalem, and no discussion on refugee rights.

Trump’s Jerusalem announcement is another step towards implementing a plan to combat chaos only by spreading and intensifying it further.

Sukumar Muralidharan teaches at the school of journalism, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat

Published on December 22, 2017

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