Israeli hardliners received the unqualified support of the Trump Administration when President Donald Trump made a surprise announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Remembering the devastation of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Trump has most likely emboldened the far Right-wing Netanyahu government to crackdown on any and all Palestinian resistance to the Likud Party’s political agenda. President Trump has attempted to frame his decision as a means to further peace talks by eliminating a distraction. Jerusalem is not, however, a distraction. It is a point of contention that is so sensitive that it is a major flash point, which should be avoided whenever possible. Trump’s decision will please select political factions, but it will also provoke violence in the Middle East that goes beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
To the secular world, the location of a capital is simply a political and territorial issue, but the religious significance of Jerusalem to Jews, Christians, and Muslims makes Jerusalem sacrosanct. This means people have a strong emotional attachment to Jerusalem. Any political stance against their position will, therefore, also be received as blasphemy. The very act of siding with Israeli on a cultural and religious issue can only agitate Israeli-Palestinian relations and undermine US influence over the Palestinians. Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is seen as a conflict between Jews and Christians against Muslims across the Middle East, Trump has sided against all Muslims and helped inflame already tense relations between Middle Easterners and the US.
Although American politicians like to think resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a significant step toward establishing peace in the Middle East, it is not. Quite frankly, peace in the Middle East does not revolve around Israel, because Israel is not the focal point of Middle Eastern conflicts or even a significant player in the region’s affairs. Thanks to the Arab Spring Revolutions and the changing political dynamics of the region, peace and stability in the Middle East hinge on the ability of all Middle Eastern governments to be more responsive to their Peoples’ needs. They also hinges on the ability of nations to justly police terrorism. Consequently, the Trump administration must recognize peace between Israel and the Palestinians is important, yet no longer holds as much weight as it once did.
With that in mind, Israel’s survival, as well as its ability to thrive, over the next few decades depends upon its ability to make progress with its Islamist neighbors. The Peoples of the Middle East are globalizing in terms of developing a far-reaching Muslim identity while they are also democratizing in terms of demanding far more responsive governance. In practice, this means more and more individuals throughout the region see the Palestinian People as their mistreated brothers and the overly aggressive, uncompromising Israeli government and People as the enemy. It also means these uniting Muslim People are going to do more to address the mistreatment of the Palestinian Peoples while regional governments will be pressured to address those demands as well, which will be easier than addressing unmet domestic concerns.
Coupled with the threat of globalized terrorism, i.e. the Islamic State, Israel’s failure to resolve its conflict with the Palestinian People threatens the future of Israel. Despite unwavering US political support, the Netanyahu government’s hardliner stance and impulse to engage in catastrophic acts of war against the Palestinians as a first resort unifies the world against Israel. Recognizing the devastation caused by Israeli’s 2014 Operation Edge and his decision to follow up the conflict with the expansion of settlements, Netanyahu appears to have little interest in peace. The Obama Administration was criticized for giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the cold shoulder, but the US needs to be able to criticize the policies of the Israeli government and the Israeli government needs to be criticized when it engages in destructive policies that create security threats.
Israel has long had an unfortunate tendency of deflecting criticism against its reaction to Hamas attacks and rationalizing even the most blatant disregard for the lives and wellbeing of innocent Palestinians who happen to find themselves in the middle of these two warring parties. Israel is an insecure nation with powerful leaders who perceive their homelands under persistent threat. When insecure leaders perceive a coming threat, they often act in irrational and counterproductive ways to grasp for some sense of security. This includes self-sabotaging behavior. Although peace is an essential part of security, a lack of vigilance against potential threats due to peace creates a sense of insecurity.
While these defense mechanisms may sound legitimate inside Israel, Israel’s right to protect itself does not matter to Palestinians while the rest of the world is not so willing to accept Israel’s rationales. Gone are the days when Israel could respond to an escalating conflict with Hamas by unleashing a deadly barrage of missile attacks on the Gaza Strip, especially considering the potential security risk that globalized terrorism now plays in Israel’s conflict with Hamas. Consequently, Israel needs to make an even greater effort to avoid causalities and collateral damage when defending itself while it must stop provoking the Palestinian People by expanding settlements.
Unless Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian People change, the US faces a future where it will have to choose between supporting the Israeli government and shunning the Peoples of Europe and the Middle East. Given the broader instability of the region and security threats, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is now a tertiary issue that will largely determine the fate of Israel, not the Middle East. For Israel, the threat of a globalizing, democratizing Muslim world and globalized terrorism put the Jewish State in a position where their failure to resolve their issues with the Palestinians may well eventually result in a Middle East united against an Israel lacking allies.
For US foreign policy, American support for Israel is increasingly cost prohibitive due to the hardliner approach of leaders like Netanyahu. Sadly, politics prevents the US from “wavering in its support of Israel,” i.e. openly disagreeing with what Israel does, while being “tough on Hamas” defines the Israeli leadership. Supporting Netanyahu’s policies, therefore, undermines US influence in the Middle East at a time when it is essential. Despite America’s unique relationship with Israel, Netanyahu is truly forcing America to choose between the whole of the Middle East and Israel. It is an unnecessary choice that can only end in one logical conclusion. Trump may offer Israeli devotion, but he will not be President forever.
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