With the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Donald Trump blew up no less than 70 years of international consensus. To encourage both sides to negotiate again, the EU must send a strong message
Once again, President Trump has opted for the unilateral path concerning foreign policy. With the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump blew up no less than 70 years of international consensus. And, once again, Trump has applied a logic that misinterprets and deteriorates the reality of the Middle East, making it essential for the EU to take a step forward.
The logic of the Trump administration in the Middle East rests on its alliance with Saudi Arabia. Since the time of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, all American presidents had chosen one of the following three destinations for their first trips abroad: Mexico, Canada or Europe. President Trump, true to his style, broke with these precedents and chose Saudi Arabia, where he participated last May in a summit along with 54 Muslim-majority countries. This symbolic gesture was accompanied by an inflammatory speech in which he vilified the Iranian regime and advocated for its isolation.
Right after passing through Riyadh, the president visited Israel, where he continued with his anti-Iranian rhetoric. Saudi Arabia and Israel do not maintain diplomatic relations, but if there is something they have in common, besides being allies of the United States, it is their frontal opposition to Tehran. Two months ago, the head of the Israeli armed forces even went so far as to support sharing intelligence data with Saudi Arabia in order to counteract Iran, stating that “with President Trump, there is an opportunity to build a new international coalition in the region.” This inertia has been intensified by the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as heir to the Saudi throne and by his eagerness to promote a change both domestically and abroad.
Taking advantage of the circumstances, Trump wanted to cause a dramatic effect. With his statements on Jerusalem, Trump has placed before the Saudis a dilemma: Prioritize their defense of the Palestinian cause, or normalize their relationship with Israel to continue strengthening the alliance against Iran? In fact, these weeks there were already rumors circulating about a supposed peace plan supported by Saudi Arabia and being very favorable to Israeli interests, although both Washington and Riyadh denied that these rumors had any basis.
It is true that some voices among the Saudi population are proposing to leave aside the thorny question of the status of Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli conflict in general. It is also true that Trump tried to qualify his words and make them more digestible for the Arabs, clarifying that he was not taking sides on the geographical limits of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem and that the transfer of the embassy from Tel Aviv would not take place immediately. However, as Martin Indyk, vice president of the Brookings Institution, says, Americans “can try to limit the damage all they want, but they won’t be able to, because Jerusalem is such a hot-button issue.”
The protests in the Middle East were not long in coming, although containment has prevailed – which should not be confused with indifference – and fortunately, the large-scale violence that some feared has not occurred. The reaction on the part of the Organization of Islamic States has not been expected either. At an extraordinary summit held in Istanbul, the OIC reaffirmed “the centrality of the Cause of Palestine and Al-Quds Ash-Sharif to the Muslim Ummah,” recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and strongly condemned the decision of Trump. It should be remembered that Jerusalem hosts the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third most sacred place for Muslims.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia directly referred to this fact when he warned Trump, shortly before his announcement, of the potential danger of it. Subsequently, Riyadh called the decision “unjustified” and “irresponsible.” And it is true that Saudi Arabia cannot distance itself from the defense of the Palestinians and give all the initiative to other countries such as Turkey or even Iran, especially after having made a similar mistake in breaking relations with Qatar. In addition, it would be understandable that the Saudis suddenly supported a plan radically different from the Arab Peace Initiative, known precisely as the “Saudi Initiative,” which was approved in 2002 and endorsed this year.
Let’s be clear: The scenario desired by Trump is an entelechy.* First, Saudi Arabia is not in a position to make the requested waivers. Second, a strategy that excludes the Palestinians will never succeed. And, finally, to face a problem of this significance, boasting of being “business people, not politicians” – in the words of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to whom the president entrusted the peace process – is bound to fail.** Although Trump has not ruled out the two-state solution, which is the one endorsed by the United Nations, he may have put the finishing touches on its final disposition. And all this without there being even significant social pressure in the United States to explain the change of direction of its president.
At this point, the best way to encourage both sides to return to the negotiating table is to reduce the unevenness of the playing field. And that happens if the EU sends a message as forceful as necessary: the immediate recognition of the Palestinian state. More than 70 percent of the member states of the United Nations have already taken this step, and it is time for the EU as a whole to do the same, as a prelude to greater involvement in the resolution of this conflict of extraordinary importance.
The road to a solution based on the establishment of two states should start with the Arab Peace Initiative. In essence, this initiative stipulates that the Arab League would recognize Israel in exchange for its return to the pre-1967 borders, although a more gradual and operational approach could be envisaged. The two-state solution – which would guarantee that Israel could preserve its Jewish and democratic character, and should guarantee the viability of the Palestinian state – still represents the most credible solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and therefore we should not renounce it. But if we want to make this “separation because of respect” of the one spoken in the ’90s by Yitzhak Rabin, there is no time to lose: Every second that passes we are closer to a point of no return.
*Editor’s note: “Entelechy” is a philosophical term meaning to make actual something that is otherwise merely potential.
**Editor’s note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.