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Trump's Jerusalem policy shift thrills Israelis — but at what cost?

Wednesday's US policy shift reduced the Palestinians to a sideshow

    People watch the speech by US President Donals Trump on the news at a pub in Jerusalem
    People watch the speech by US President Donals Trump on the news at a pub in Jerusalem Flash90

    “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” US President Donald Trump said as he began his address on Wednesday in the White House.

    For once, he totally delivered on his words.

    The Trump Proclamation on recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel had everything Israeli governments have dreamed of hearing in the White House, and never imagined they would.

    It adopted all the talking-points long used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Jerusalem’s historic centrality to the Jewish people, with barely a passing nod to any Palestinian claims on the city or the land.

    It detached the issue of Jerusalem from the broader picture of the diplomatic process. It mentioned none of the central tenets of US foreign policy stretching back decades. There was no mention of the 1967 borders and nothing about the settlements.

    The proclamation could easily have been written by Mr Netanyahu’s veteran aide Ron Dermer, the current Israeli ambassador to the US. To some extent it probably was, as Mr Dermer currently enjoys the best access of any diplomat to the White House and the president’s inner circle.

    It is, all in all, an incredible diplomatic coup for Mr Netanyahu.

    The only concession to diplomatic orthodoxy was Mr Trump’s admission that the two-state solution was still a viable option, if both sides wanted it to be.

    But one great question mark looms over Mr Trump’s speech. How does he expect to square the overwhelmingly pro-Israel tone of his speech with his stated aspiration to achieve the “greatest deal of all” — a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians?

    Sceptics will take this as proof that the president was never serious about it. There is, however, a view in Jerusalem and Washington that Mr Trump is exercising his own characteristic style of brinkmanship, proving to both sides that he is willing to ditch the established consensus.

    So far that has been demonstrated towards the Palestinians. But there may be elements of the much talked about Trump plan that are far less palatable to the Israeli right-wing.

    But will the Palestinians now even be willing to come to the table and negotiate? The big unknown is the Palestinian reaction. In the short-term, will we see a violent backlash in Jerusalem and the West Bank? And further down the road, will the Palestinian leadership agree to the Trump administration acting as brokers in the diplomatic process?

    Fatah and other Palestinian organisations announced three “days of rage”. As the JC went to press, the rage has largely been in the statements by Palestinian spokespeople. This could be partly due to the fact that the Trump hoopla coincided with the first day of real winter in Jerusalem and the West Bank: demonstrations in the Middle East don’t usually kick off in heavy rain.

    Israel’s security chiefs have prepared contingency plans for possible escalation on the ground and are looking at Friday, following the noon prayers at the Al Aqsa mosques, as a potential moment when riots could start. The current intelligence assessments are that the Palestinian leadership is not yet prepared to relaunch the Intifada and there is scant appetite for it among the wider Palestinian public.

    But the one sentiment that seemed to be shared this week by every Palestinian in Jerusalem was a feeling of abandonment by the international community and by the Arab World.

    No one doubted President Trump’s announcement could have been made without the tacit agreement of the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    The clearest conclusion from the US policy shift is that the Palestinian issue is at the lowest it has been on the global priorities list for decades, with the Palestinians reduced to a sideshow.

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