Gaza killings are on Trump
At almost the same time as agencies were reporting that the number of Palestinian demonstrators killed by Israeli troops in Gaza on May 14 had reached 41, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke in a live broadcast to Jerusalem. Trump said he was committed to the “peace process” in the Middle East and congratulated Israel on its 70th anniversary, while the U.S. opened its embassy in Jerusalem (making it the first country to do so).
The Palestinians were protesting that move by marching to the fences surrounding Gaza upon calls mainly from Hamas, the Israeli forces opened fire and wounded nearly a thousand of them, according to international news agencies.
Trump first announced that the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to the historic city of the three monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) on Dec. 5, 2017. At the time he drew widespread international condemnation and warnings about the decision’s potential to lead to grave consequences.
During an extraordinary meeting on Dec. 13 in Istanbul convened by Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) called on the United Nations to protect the current status of Jerusalem and called on countries to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine under Israeli occupation. In a U.N. vote on Dec. 21 only nine countries (including the U.S. and Israel) supported Trump’s decision, while 128 countries (including the other four members of the U.N. Security Council - Russia, China, the U.K. and France - and allies like Germany, India and Japan) stood against it.
That did not stop Trump. On the contrary, he pushed hard to shorten the time it would take to move the embassy building to get it ready for the 70th anniversary of Israel.
Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the state of Israel and was the first Muslim-majority country to do so, drawing a lot of criticism at the time especially from Arab countries. But it has also been Turkey that has long supported the rights of Palestinians and their right to have their own state.
The tragedy of yesterday is on Trump. The tragedy of May 14, 2018 and the feared follow up tragedies - as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts from May 16 - will be on Trump’s aggressive policy of showing his “swagger,” as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo frankly put it when he assumed office on May 1.
It is not possible to think of Trump’s Jerusalem move separately from his May 8 pullout from the nuclear deal with Iran. That move was opposed not only by adversaries like Russia and China but also by allies like the EU, worried about its potential to put international security in further jeopardy.
It is also not possible to think of those two steps as Trump’s decision alone. It was only after the team of super-hawks came together in Trump’s administration that such steps became possible to take. Mike Pence was already there as vice president and the Jim Mattis was there as secretary of defense, and they were recently joined by John Bolton as national security adviser and recently Pompeo as secretary of state.
It is also not possible to ignore the stances of three Muslim-majority Arab countries in the latest Palestinian tragedy. If Saudi Arabia (as well as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates) used their leverage on the U.S. and Israel in favor of the basic rights of the Palestinians - rather than backing their policies based on rivalry with Iran - then developments could have unfolded in a different, possibly not so violent way.