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  December 6, 2017

Trump's 'Criminal' Jerusalem Move Could Backfire

By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the US embassy there, President Trump is catering to the US right-wing while risking a new revolt against his Middle East agenda, says journalist and scholar Rami Khouri
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Rami Khouri is a Senior Public Policy Fellow and adjunct professor of journalism at American University of Beirut. He is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.


AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News, I'm Aaron Mate. President Trump has formally announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American embassy there.

DONALD TRUMP: I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today I am delivering. I've judged this course of action to be in the best interest of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

AARON MATÉ: Protests have already begun in the occupied territories where Palestinian factions have declared three days of rage. Well, to discuss this I spoke earlier to Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow, and professor of journalism at American University of Beirut. Also, a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. I begin by asking Rami Khouri, his response to Trump's announcement.

RAMI KHOURI: Well, I think President Trump showed that he is engaging in dangerous, reckless behavior, which he's been doing all along in his last 10, 11 months in office. But he's dealing in a level of incoherence and recklessness, now that is really unprecedented because he's taking a position, which the entire world, virtually the entire world, rejects. Not just Arabs are angry and Palestinians, the whole world. Then there's United Nations resolutions on the status of Jerusalem and he's just thrown this out the window.

So we're dealing with a level of intellectual and political arrogance by the American president that is really dangerous for the region and I think for the United States. Because what this does is it puts the United States in a position where it is the only country, on a serious level, in the world that is going against established international law and U.N. resolutions on the status of Jerusalem. And it's essentially sending the message that, don't worry about international law, and conventions, and treaties, and U.N. Council Resolutions. You can ignore all that stuff. Do what you want. So this is a recipe for the law of the jungle.

And it further hurts the United States because it basically is sending the message that you can't trust the United States to keep its word or to do the right thing. That the U.S. will do whatever if it wants if it thinks it's good for its own domestic, political purposes, or to raise campaign funding from extremists and Las Vegas and other places in the United States. That's the message that the world gets. It's a combination of political, and moral, corruption and criminality, which is frightening because it's done out of the White House. This is totally un-American. Totally unprecedented and very dangerous.

AARON MATÉ: But in terms of this being un-American and unprecedented, it's true that this is a formal decision that carries some huge symbolic weight for the U.S. to do this. But how much is it an actual departure from existing U.S. policy? In the sense that the U.S. has supported Israel's de facto annexation of East Jerusalem by continuing to provide billions of dollars in aid and also providing plenty of diplomatic cover at the U.N. when other countries tried to hold Israel to account for its takeover of East Jerusalem.

RAMI KHOURI: Well, those are important points that you make and it is really at the symbolic level that this is important. But this is symbolism that is more important than anything that's done at the practical level. Because it's the last arena where Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and even many Jews of good conscience, hold out the hope that there can be a negotiated, peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that is fair to Israelis and Palestinians. And this was the last thread linking the condition of the peace negotiations, which have been more open for 20 years under American tutelage. But this was this last thread that possibly gave people some hope that maybe a two-state solution could be negotiated.

Because everything else that Israel wants, the extremist right-wing government under Netanyahu wants. Settlements. Militarism. Siege of Gaza. Putting thousands of people in jail. Expropriating land. Bombing and killing people at will. Arresting people. Torturing people. Everything that Israel has done, the United States, as you said, has either acquiesced in or explicitly supported. But this was the last thread of decency, legality, and good conscience behavior and the United States just threw it in the garbage can.

AARON MATÉ: Can you talk about the Saudi context here because one other thing that makes this different from previous U.S., Israeli policies towards Palestinians, is now Israel appears to have the open cooperation of the Saudi government.

RAMI KHOURI: One of the big issues that's going to become clear in the next couple of weeks, or couple of months if this continues, is that you will see a big gap emerging in some Arab countries between the leaderships and the people. Between the government and the citizens. Because the Arab governments historically have done whatever they need to do, like most governments in the world do. Like Trump is doing now. Do anything that they need to do, to get support politically to stay in power. And Trump is doing this, essentially, for political support of pro-Israeli right-wing extremists, including Evangelical Christian extremists and donors.

And Arab governments are the same. They'll do anything that they feel is going to keep them in power and they will try to figure out a way to be friends with Israel, while the vast majority of their people are critical of Israel in the current situation of Palestinian-Israeli relations. The vast majority of Arabs have made it clear that they're willing to negotiate a permanent, peaceful resolution of the conflict. But in the current situation of Israel continuing to annex and build settlements in Arab, East Jerusalem, the public in the Arab world is extremely hostile to what Israel does. And if the Arab governments try to get closer to Israel, this is going to open a huge wedge between citizen and state, and we may find significant problems within Arab countries.

Not necessarily hostility against Israel or the U.S, which has been expressed before and has achieved virtually nothing, but you will find Arab citizens finally turning against their government and saying, what in the world are you people doing? You can't make war. You can't make peace. You let us be humiliated. You've turned the Arab world into a trash heap of morality, and dignity, and legality and this is the final indignity that the American President imposes on us. Basically telling us that we, the Arabs, the Palestinians, the Muslims, the people of the Middle East, that we have no rights. We have no voice. We have no place in the world. That what we feel, or what we think is our rights, doesn't count and the U.S. can do anything it wants. Even on the most sacred, sensitive, important political issue in our universe, which is Jerusalem.

And the Arab leaders are going to be told, if you can't do anything about this, then maybe you shouldn't be there. So we don't know how it's going to play out, but clearly, this is an issue where leaders and citizens of the Arab world, have very different perspectives.

AARON MATÉ: Robby Khouri, senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at American University of Beirut. Also, a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. Thank you.

RAMI KHOURI: You're welcome.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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