Understanding American President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem requires sober analysis of trends leading up to his decision, well before he even took office. As a reporter who has investigated and chronicled the so-called “peace process” and covered Jerusalem over the past fifteen years, it has pained me to witness the “slow-motion train wreck” quality of this conflict that brings us to the present calamity.[1]  While unrivaled in its recklessness, Trump’s Jerusalem maneuver last week mimics a purposeful strategy developed under US President George W. Bush. Dismissing criticisms of the America’s post-9/11 policies, Bush’s political brain, Karl Rove, quipped in an interview show:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.  And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will, we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.  We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”[2]  

After Trump took office I noted how many in the Arab Gulf countries thought that as a businessmen Trump would be good for relations, if only for commercial reasons.[3]  Some clung to a fantasy that—like all his presidential predecessors—Trump was just talking trash about making the Embassy move, perhaps to placate his rightwing base. 

Events have clearly born out the falsity of both suppositions.  Although the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed in 1995, America’s premier pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, had been pushing the law for decades.[4]  Martin Indyk, who first worked for AIPAC before going on to twice serve as US Ambassador to Israel, recalled in a recent interview how he wrote his “first memo on moving the embassy to Jerusalem in 1982” because “back then it was Menachem Begin’s government in Israel that was pushing for the idea.”[5]   As has been pointed out repeatedly, Indyk made a career experimenting with various Israeli ideas on the backs of Arabs, often disguised as “American” ones.[6]  Peace was never the outcome or the intention, Palestinians would always end up with less than they began with, and strangely enough the Israelis whom he favored would always leave with something more than they had before. 

This process characterized the biased US-led mediation both Indyk and his boss and companion Dennis Ross provided during the bulk of the 1992 to 2001 period.   As Ross’s deputy lamented in a 2005 mea culpa, “many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations.”[7]  In 2016, Dennis Ross would confirm that thesis, admitting to what Arabs for years had long accused him of: “We don’t need to be advocates for the Palestinians,” said Ross.  “We need to be advocates for Israel.”[8]  The results of this “Israel’s lawyer” approach in practical terms was devastating for Palestinian and Muslim interests, and were spearheaded by a team of American officials who were almost exclusively Jewish, even if their politics on Israel differed (whether sympathizing with Labour or Likud).  Both Ross and Indyk would make return appearances in senior diplomatic positions to again influence Israel policy under President Obama, ostensibly because they “cared” about the issue rather than actually succeeding at it.  In a sense, the success/failure ratio of the peace process largely under their stewardship speak for itself.  Consider how there were just 200,000 settlers in the West Bank when the Oslo process started in 1993.  Nearly a quarter century later there is not only the absence of peace but more than 600,000 Israeli settlers standing in its way.[9]

Jerusalem was very much a casualty of that process, particularly as Israel encroached on Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods with home demolitions and erection of Jewish-only colonies,[10] but also as successive Israeli governments tinkered with excavating near Al Aqsa mosque.[11]  Always keen to innovate, the Israelis turned to archeology as a weapon against Muslims claims to Jerusalem. By digging around and near Al Aqsa Mosque, passing by periods of Islamic history, they seek to locate relics exclusively from Jewish history that will help justify its land theft and colonization. They do so in spite of the risk that the excavation threatens existing structures, including the retaining wall that supports the Al Aqsa mosque compound. 

In negotiations over Jerusalem’s status, successive American diplomats worked like corrupt auditors assisting an embezzler.  At the Camp David 2000 summit, Ross recalls in his memoir telling Indyk “We’d better think of ways to compensate Palestinians for what they won’t be able to get from the Israelis on Jerusalem,” going on to suggest “as a “big symbol for [Yasser] Arafat” that they would say “the American embassy will be built in the part of Abu Dis that extends into the current municipal boundary of East Jerusalem.”[12] 

Selling the “Abu Dis” neighborhood as Palestine’s future capital and tiny foothold was a notion Ross tried hard to peddle at the summit, and his hand-written amendments at Israel’s insistence to the sole US draft proposal at Camp David, which I published for the first time in my book, generated such outrage from Arafat that it utterly discredited this procedural necessity for the rest of the summit, one of many reasons it failed.[13] 

While the late Hafez al-Asad was adamant about getting every square inch of the occupied Golan Heights back in negotiations, Arafat showed considerable flexibility with Israel on Palestinian territory and even the refugee file, although for him Jerusalem was a clear red line.  Before he died Arafat was quoted saying “had they given me Al-Quds and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, I would have given them anything.”[14]  Those who studied Arafat, as I did, knew he absolutely meant it. 

Not so with the crew that replaced Arafat following his suspicious death in November 2004.[15]  Arab and Muslim links to Jerusalem were weakened during negotiations led by Mahmoud Abbas.  The PA cried foul in 2010 when Israel built 1,600 new settlement units in the Ramat Shlomo part of Arab East Jerusalem, announced just as then-Vice President Joe Biden had arrived to visit to the region.  Israel, for its part, ignored the outrage as if it were mere pageantry and kept on building away. 

Less than one year later, when I came into possession of the so-called “Palestine Papers,” the largest leak of confidential negotiating records related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, I would better understand why.  Inside those records I read astonishing transcripts that evidence the unprecedented betrayal of Jerusalem—this time, by senior Palestinian Authority officials.  In one 2008 meeting, Ahmed Qurei boasted to Tzipi Livni:  “We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa).  This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so in Camp David.”[16] In a 2010 meeting with Obama Administration officials, an exasperated Saeb Erekat complained the Israelis are not taking their offer seriously: “What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarized state…what more can I give?”[17]

While signaling to Israel that large swaths of Jerusalem would ultimately, in fact, be theirs, publicly they pretended otherwise.  For its part, Israel pocketed those Palestinian concessions, intensified its efforts to Judaize and cleanse Arab neighborhoods, understanding that they could create a “reality on the ground” to gain sovereignty without having to give Palestinians a thing. 
In the absence of any meaningful negotiations—or at least one not championed by the United States, acting in fact as an agent provocateur or extra Israeli negotiator—the “facts on the ground” approach made all the more sense for Israel, and its American supporters, to get behind.

Suffice it to say that after AIPAC lit the long fuse on the Jerusalem time bomb it was only a matter of when a politician would come along to implement it, particularly as domestic US politics shifted rightward alongside Israel’s.  Many others had the good sense not to, from Clinton to George W Bush to Obama, and each had every six months invoked a “Presidential Waiver” to argue that implementing the Jerusalem Embassy Act would infringe on the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy, which Congress largely accepted.

In 1995 the same year that the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed President Clinton declared a “national emergency” by issuing Executive Order 12947, placing a freeze on the assets of Palestinian (and other) Islamic charities and organizations of groups he accused of threatening to “disrupt the Middle East peace process.”[18]  Everything under Clinton, Bush, and Obama had been aimed at eradicating the Palestinian right to resist Israeli occupation, even though it is a legally protected right under international law.[19] 

Billions of US dollars, meanwhile, poured into Tel Aviv from Washington to strengthen Israel’s tools of oppression and killing, conveniently branded as “defense.”  Whereas since Clinton money could not be sent to help Palestinians resist Israel’s brutal occupation, under Bush it expanded to “material support” of any kind, construed as a prohibition on even providing Palestinian resistance groups with legal advice.  Little wonder why.  Under Obama and his so-called “honest broker” George Mitchell, Palestinians were browbeaten into resisting Israel through the most non-violent means possible:  lawsuits.  Again the Palestine Papers and even South African Spy Cables I later obtained provided smoking gun evidence of how the PA abandoned a war crimes investigation at the ICC over the 2008/9 Gaza War in response to intense US and Israeli pressure.[20] 

Meanwhile, the floodgates remain open for Americans to support and fund Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, in violation of US policy if not law. America’s own material support for those Israeli settlers stealing Palestinian land—an inherently violent act—is made worse by the fact it is indirectly subsidized by unwitting US taxpayer as any donations made to a US-registered charities are considered tax-deductible.  Despite being well-documented by the New York Times and other outlets, US acquiescence in American charities funding Israeli settlements abroad continues unabated.[21]  In the same vain, as the US works hard to stop foreign fighters from joining Middle East resistance or terrorist organizations, in fact many Americans come and go without scrutiny to don the Israeli military uniform, committing unspeakably violent acts against Palestinians, with whom the US is ostensibly not at war.[22]

The suppression of Palestinian resistance, uptick in US support for Jewish-only settlements, and erosion of Arab and Muslim claims was to become a signature feature of American policy as the Trump Administration took office.  The so-called “Muslim ban,” which Arab governments were embarrassingly silent on, was only Trump’s idea of a party starter to 2017.  Despite leaving most State Department senior postings vacant all year, on the Israeli-Palestine front Trump wasted no time.  He foreshadowed the Jerusalem move in his first months in office by promptly appointing a triumvirate of Orthodox Jewish-American aides to drive a stake through the heart of Arab and Muslim interests; with fancy sounding titles, their job would be to accelerate “new realities” on the ground for Israel that would offend, outrage, and leave plenty for the Arab League in Cairo to blow hot air about. 

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was tasked with making the “ultimate deal” and designated to lead the effort.  His personal and familial closeness to Bibi Netanyahu and years of donations to illegal Israeli settlements did nothing to stop Palestinians from accepting him as an envoy.[23]  As early as a few weeks ago one PA official even told me what a “good listener” Kushner had proven to be.  (A little secret:  In the US, Kushner’s “good listening” and not speaking is ascribed not to any good faith but to sheer ignorance).  Assisting Kushner is Jason Greenblatt, “Special Representative for International Negotiations,” a jump from his previous job as lawyer for the Trump Organization.  Greenblatt’s credentials to mediate, if you were to argue there are any, may stem from a 2015 book he penned called “Israel for Families:  An Adventure Guide in 12 Days.”  His approach to the thorny issues facing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is evidenced by the book’s absence of any reference to Palestine or the occupation.  Finally, Trump’s man on the ground is US Ambassador to Tel Aviv (now Jerusalem?), David Friedman.  As recently as 2016 Friedman penned an OpEd saying the two-state solution was a “scam.”[24]  Friedman did not just send money to illegal Jewish settlements, he even served as director of the American Friends of Bet El institutions, which funded millions of dollars over the years to this West Bank settlement.[25]  

Like Trump, Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman have all been consistent in telling outsiders that the US would, in fact, move its embassy to Jerusalem.  In November 2017 Kushner was  welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s autocratic interlocutors who, according to Reuters, “ were on board” with Trump’s “peace” efforts despite convenient later claims to the contrary.[26]  As I recently wrote these same “leaders” in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates appear to clearly have more hate in their heart for Iran than love for Islam and the Palestinian cause, which Jerusalem represents.[27] 

With an appalling lack of Arab and Muslim unity at the official level, Israel and the US understand there will be little official consequences.  To the extent that it inspires resistance and terrorist groups aimed at killing Israelis and Americans, any attacks will only further cement the US-Israeli narrative developed by Trump (and approved by Riyadh) of “fighting extremism” and “driving them out.”[28]  Even the odd protest, such as the one that took place in front of the US Embassy in Beirut, will hardly rattle Trump’s cage. 

As bizarre as it seems, many have yet to recognize that Trump embodies many of the personality disorders seen in an arsonist.  Like those criminally deranged, he fetishes in being present at the crime scene to witness the drama and trauma he created.  The more television cameras covering it the better.  Even as he’d have you believe he hates the media, according to a recent expose, in fact Trump spends several hours each day watching it cover him.[29] 

Trump’s move was not just an assault on the Islamic faith and the Palestinian cause.  It represents a vandalizing of basic international law that the United Nations was founded on; to wit Article Two of the UN Charter which prohibits the “acquisition of territory by force.”  The Jerusalem move was prefaced by Trump Administration threats just a few weeks prior to shut down the PLO Mission in Washington DC.[30]  So just think about that:  off the back of scaring the PLO into believing it would shutter all of its diplomatic access to America, Trump decides that’s not big enough and so moves on to tinker with Jerusalem.  Forget all the caveats he promised about “not taking a position on final borders.”[31] A Freudian slip by his UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in a TV interview expressed it best, “The president took Jerusalem off the table.[32] That’s what he did.  Because that’s something that we have always, people have said, used as a bargaining chip.”

The funeral for American mediation, along with the bankruptcy of the Palestinian Authority, Arab League, and the United Nations itself—not to forget the body has disproportionately worked to shield Israel from its war crimes and colonization—finally gives rise to new and promising possibilities.  With Jerusalem, Trump has spread lime on the two-state solution corpse.  As it speedily decomposes—through America’s “new realities”—the world can now turn to what is truly the only game in town:  the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (or “BDS”).  Israel knows this is its true global threat,[33] and AIPAC is working overtime to pass laws to outlaw it in all 50 states.[34]

But that won’t stop the rest of the world and diminish its impact.  Trump has accelerated Israel’s transition into full-on pariah state.  And taken in that light, he is to be thanked.  Jerusalem will one day have its rightful owner.   The ones to deliver it will be the anti-Apartheid masses who lock arms across every continent—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim—rather than the political elites and failed institutions that created this mess. 

Endnotes

[1] See Clayton Swisher. The Palestine Papers: The End of the Road? London:  Hesperus Press, 2011.  Also, Swisher, Clayton. The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process New York: Nation Books, 2004. 

[2] Ron Suskind.  “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush.”  New York Times Magazine, Published on:  October 17, 2004. 

[3] Ben Walsh, Ryan Grim, and Clayton Swisher.  “Jared Kushner Tried and Failed to Get A Half-Billion Dollar Bailout from Qatar,” The Intercept, Published on July 10, 2017. 

[4] Mearsheimer, John, and Walt, Stephen. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), p 127. 

[5] Amir Tibon.  “From Bill Clinton to Trump:  The Never-ending Story of the Jerusalem Embassy Move,” Haaretz, Published on December 6, 2017. 

[6] From “Martin Indyk on Israel and the US”, Al Jazeera, Published on September 11, 2016, Last Accessed on December 12, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/headtohead/2016/06/transcript-martin-indyk-israel-160613082408332.html.

[7] Aaron David Miller.  “Israel’s Lawyer,” Washington Post, Published on May 23, 2005. 

[8] Phillip Weiss. “Dennis Ross tells American Jews:  ‘We need to be advocates for Israel’—and not for Palestinians.” Mondoweiss, Published on: June 17, 2016, Last Accessed on: December 11, 2017. http://mondoweiss.net/2016/06/american-advocates-palestinians/

[9] Noura Erekat.  “Thank you President Trump, you have finally ended US double-speak on Middle East ‘peace,’” Middle East Eye, Published on December 8, 2017, Last accessed on:  December 11, 2017.  http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/palestinians-should-have-long-changed-rules-game-582609215

[10] Clayton Swisher.  “Jerusalem Palestinians fear eviction by Israel.  Al Jazeera English.  Published on April 17, 2009.  Last Accessed on:  December 11, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cAeIvbMgFg

[11] Clayton Swisher.  “Excavations deepen Israel-Palestine divide.”  Al Jazeera English.  Published on April 16, 2009.  Last accessed on:  December 11, 2017.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qJAZOnN9o4

[12] Dennis Ross. The Missing Peace. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004), 681. 

[13] Clayton Swisher. The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process New York: Nation Books, 2004.  266-270.

[14] Kurtzer, et. al. The Peace Puzzle:  America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011. (Washington DC:  Cornell University Press, 2013), 137. 

[15]  See Clayton Swisher.  “What Killed Arafat”. Al Jazeera Investigates. Published on: July 4, 2012. Last Accessed on: December 11, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBT7o0piZ8E

Also, Clayton Swisher.  “Killing Arafat”. Al Jazeera Investigates. Published on: November 10, 2013. Last Accessed on: December 11, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qr2DULWPzAs

[16] “Trilateral Meeting Minutes”, Jerusalem-Inpal Hotel (Larome), June 15, 2008.  Palestine Papers, Al Jazeera English.  Last Accessed on December 11, 2017, http://transparency.aljazeera.net/files/2825.PDF

[17] “Meeting Minutes,” Dr Saeb Erekat- Amb. David Hale, January 15, 2010.  Palestine Papers, Al Jazeera English, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017, http://www.ajtransparency.com/files/5012.PDF

[18] Clayton E. Swisher. The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process. (New York: Nation Books, 2004), 141. 

[19] Mya Guarnieri.  “Palestinian right to fight occupation not only moral, but legal as well.”  +972Magazine, Published on December 22, 2011, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://972mag.com/on-the-palestinians-legal-right-to-fight-the-occupation/30855/

[20] Clayton Swisher.  “Spy Cables:  Abbas and Israel ally against 2009 UN Probe. Al Jazeera English, Published on February 23, 2015, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  http://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/middleeast/2015/02/spy-cables-abbas-israel-ally-2009-probe-goldstone-palestine-report-gaza-guardian-150222142146258.html

[21] Jim Rutenberg, Mike McIntyre and Ethan Bronner.  “Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank,” New York Times.  Published on July 5, 2010. 

[22] Clayton Swisher.  “America’s Israeli Jihadist,” Huffington Post, Published on June 23, 2014.  Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/clayton-swisher/americas-israeli-jihadist_b_5611869.html

[23] Jodi Kantor.  “For Kushner, Israel Policy May Be Shaped by the Personal.”  New York Times, Published on February 11, 2017.  Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/11/us/politics/jared-kushner-israel.html

[24] David Friedman.  “End the two-state narrative.”  Arutz Sheva 7, Published on August 2, 2016, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/18368

[25] Karen DeYoung.  “Trump picks a supporter of West Bank settlements for ambassador to Israel. “ Washington Post, Published on December 15, 2016, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-picks-a-supporter-of-west-bank-settlements-for-ambassador-to-israel/2016/12/15/1a50c03c-c32e-11e6-9a51-cd56ea1c2bb7_story.html?utm_term=.681698a0b892

[26] Samia Nakhoul, Stephen Kalin, Suleiman Al-Khalidi.  “Despite furor over Jerusalem move, Saudis seen on board with U.S. peace efforts,” Reuters, Published on December 8, 2017, Last Accessed December 11, 2017.  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-israel-saudi-insight/despite-furor-over-jerusalem-move-saudis-seen-on-board-with-u-s-peace-efforts-idUSKBN1E22GR

[27] Clayton Swisher. “Losing Jerusalem to focus on Iran,” TRT World, Published on December 7, 2017, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/losing-jerusalem-to-focus-on-iran-12926

[28] “President Trump’s Speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit” White House, Published on May 21, 2017, Last Accessed on December 11 2017. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/21/president-trumps-speech-arab-islamic-american-summit

[29] Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker.  “Inside Trump’s Hour-By-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation,” New York Times, Published on December 9, 2017, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/09/us/politics/donald-trump-president.html?_r=0

[30] Dov Lieber. “Mission Impossible: How an old US law could scotch peace talks before they start,” Times of Israel, Published on November 20, 2017, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.timesofisrael.com/mission-impossible-how-an-old-us-law-could-scotch-peace-talks-before-they-start/

[31] “Statement by President Trump on Jerusalem,” White House, Published on December 6, 2017, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/12/06/statement-president-trump-jerusalem

[32] Nikki Haley.  Interview on Face the Nation, Published December 10, 2017,  Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.  https://www.cbsnews.com/news/transcript-nikki-haley-on-face-the-nation-dec-10-2017/

[33] Clayton Swisher.  “The Lobby,” Al Jazeera Investigates, Published on January 7, 2017.  Last Accessed on:  December 11, 2017.  http://www.aljazeera.com/investigations/thelobby/

[34] MJ Rosenberg.  “Democrats Join Republicans in Bill Criminalizing Speech Critical of Israel,” Huffington Post, Published on July 27, 2017, Last Accessed on December 11, 2017.

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