Is the Trump administration finally shedding the US image of a neutral peace broker?

When then Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump delivered his famous speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March 2016, he revealed the type of politician he truly is. By Washington’s standards, he was a “good politician”, devoid of any values. 

In his speech he made many promises to Israel. The large crowd could not contain their giddiness. AIPAC conferences are rarely platforms for rational thinking, but rather an undisguised, unmitigated love fest for Israel, and only Israel. Trump knew how to speak their language.

Of the many false claims and dangerous promises Trump made, a particular passage stood out. It offered early clues to what the future administration’s policy on Israel and Palestine would look like. 

The signs were not promising: "When the United States stands with Israel, the chances of peace really rise and rises exponentially. That’s what will happen when Donald Trump is president of the United States," he declared, a fraudulent statement that was preceded with loud applause and ended with an even louder cheer.

"We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem," he announced. The mix of cheers and applause was deafening.

And finally, "The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable." 

By then, the crowd was intoxicated in their own euphoria.

The truth, however, is Trump's love affair with Israel is fairly recent. 

He has made several pronouncements in the past that in fact irked Israel and its powerful backers in the US. But when his chances of becoming the Republican nominee grew, so did his willingness to say whatever it takes to win Israel's approval.

Now that Trump is president, and an embattled one at that, he is desperate to maintain the support of the very constituency that brought him into the White House in the first place. The rightwing, conservative, Christian-evangelical constituency remains one of the key pillars of support in his otherwise troubled presidency. 

So, on December 4, Trump picked up the phone and began calling Arab leaders, informing them of his decision to announce a move that has been delayed for many years: relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Arabs fumed, for such a move would surely create further destabilisation in a region that has been taken on a destructive course for years. Much of that instability is the outcome of misguided US policies, predicated on unwarranted wars and blind support for Israel.

Moreover, the US aligned Middle Eastern states have themselves been struggling under constant conflict, internal splits and a growing sense of American abandonment.

If Trump declares Jerusalem the capital of Israel it will mean that a cornerstone of US foreign policy in the Middle East has been removed. There can be no talk about a “two-state solution”, a “Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital”, and all the other slogans and cliches that defined US political rhetoric in the region for decades.

Worse, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 has served as the anchor of the US approach to what has been termed the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” since 1967. The resolutions call for Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied since the war of 1967. 

Since then, East Jerusalem has been recognised by international law and by every country that extended diplomatic ties to Israel as an integral part of the Occupied Territories.

Reversing its views on the status of Jerusalem would mean a total reversal of longstanding US policy, not only regarding its own working definition of peacemaking, but to the entire Middle East, considering that Palestine and Israel have been at the center of most of the region’s conflicts.

It may have appeared that in March 2016, when Trump elatedly announced his intentions to relocate his country's embassy to Jerusalem, he spoke like every American politician would, making lofty promises that could not be kept.

But there are factors that make this embassy move now an attractive option for the Trump administration. 

The US is currently experiencing unprecedented political instability and polarisation. Talk of impeaching the president is gaining momentum, while his officials are being paraded before the Department of Justice on various allegations, including collusion with foreign powers - including Israel.  

Under these circumstances, there is no decision or issue that Trump can approach without finding himself in a political storm, except one issue: Israel. 

Being pro-Israel has historically united the two main parties in the US Congress, the media and many Americans. Foremost amongst them is Trump's political base.

Indeed, when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, purportedly violating its legislative role, Trump’s interest in politics was quite haphazard and entirely personal.

The US Congress has gone even further. Attempting to twist the arm of the White House, it added a clause, giving the administration until May 1999, to carry out the Congress's diktats or face a 50 percent cut in the State Departments’ budget allocated to "Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad."

It was an impossible ultimatum. The US, by then, had positioned itself as an “honest peace broker” in the peace process - a political framework that defined its entire American foreign policy outlook in the Middle East.

To avoid violating the legislation passed by Congress and to maintain a thread, however thin, of credibility, every US president has signed a six-month waiver; a loophole in Section 7 of the law that allowed the White House to postpone the relocation of the embassy.

Fast forward to Trump's AIPAC speech. His pledge to move the embassy then seemed merely frivolous and opportunistic.

That, as with so much of Trumps behaviour, was the wrong assessment. Collusion between Trump's team and Israel began even before he walked into the Oval room. They worked together to undermine UN efforts in December 2016 to pass a resolution condemning Israel’s continued illegal settlement in the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem.

Names of individuals affiliated with the administration's policy towards Israel spoke volumes of the messianic nature of the government's future outlook. 

David Friedman, Trump's bankruptcy attorney was picked as US Ambassador in Israel; Jason Greenblatt was appointed as the administration's top Middle East negotiator. Both men are known for their extremist, pro-Israel views – views that were seen as dangerous even by mainstream US media.

Chosen to lead the "peace" efforts was Trump's son-in-law and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s good friend, Jared Kushner. Trump’s dedication to Israel was clearly not fleeting.

By accepting Israel's illegal annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem, Trump would end an American political gambit that lasted decades; supporting Israel unconditionally, while posing as a neutral, honest broker.

Although his move is aimed at appeasing Israel, its US allies in government, and his base of fundamentalists and conservatives, he is also shedding a mask that every US president has worn for decades.

However, Trump's decision, while it will upset the delicate political equilibrium in the Middle East, will neither cancel nor reverse international law. It simply means that the US has decided to drop the act, and walk wholly into the Israeli camp, further isolating itself from the rest of the world by openly defying international law.

And by doing so, it will, oddly enough, negate the paradoxical role it carved for itself in the last 50 years - that of peacemaker.

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