Lately the world’s largest open air mental hospital, as the Holy Land has been called, has lived up to its moniker. Trump has helped by moving our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Some aspects of this destabilizing action have been neglected or misunderstood by the media, however. Firstly, any hope of a Palestinian state is now pretty much dead. For decades what would have been the second state of a two-state model has been chipped away, enclaved, and geographically scattered by Israel, illegally by some measure. Much of the world went along with barely a peep outside Europe. Endorsing Jerusalem as its capital is a de-facto agreement with the current status quo for the entire West Bank.
Twenty years ago, let alone forty or fifty, Trump’s embassy shift would have resulted in all kind of howls from the Islamosphere. Ambassadors would have been recalled, boycotts thrown, state sponsored mass protests and the like. But in the last month apart from a few street demos by Palestinians themselves, Arab push-back has been muted to non-existent. Remember in the 1970s and ‘80s Palestinians, the P.L.O and its attendant non-state allies were terrorism. Spectacular plane hijacking and bombings were regular fare. It was a different, naive era of secular terrorism where Marxist groups and their socialist state supporters fought for the definable goal of “Palestine.” That was before a religious, millenarian suicidal jihad began in the 1990s. Religion has supercharged terrorism – in part by convincing terrorists to die themselves as well as kill others, en-mass, mainly by putting Allah in center of the picture. Today’s terrorist is seeking otherworldly paradise, not a shabby little nation state by the Mediterranean.
The “why” of Trump’s moving the embassy has been misunderstood: is not the work of the “Israel lobby.” Jews get the credit or blame (depending on perspective) for America’s lock-step alliance with Israel, however other factors are at play. Consider there are only four million Jews in the US, the majority of whom vote Democrat even though the Republicans are the more Israel friendly of the two big parties.
It’s the Christians. Trump is doing what he always does: playing only to his base, regardless of consequences, in this case 60+ million Evangelicals. Don’t under estimate the importance of this embassy kerfuffle to them and how much they’ll love him for it. According to Biblical prophecy for the Messiah to return to earth Israel must be under Jewish control. By endorsing Jewish ownership of Jerusalem and thus the West Bank Trump has made the return of Jesus that much closer. Plus, with the West Bank “settled” in every respect, Israel gets closer to the dream of a (huge) “Greater Israel.” Greater anywhere; Greater Israel, Greater Somalia, Yugoslavia, etc. always involves the revanchist invasion of neighbors. This embassy move is so important to American Evangelicals it leaves other old saw horses like gay wedding cakes or Roe v. Wade in the dust.
Additionally, presenting this utterly unacceptable situation to the Palestinians (with nothing in return from the Israelis by the way) is all but guaranteed to stop any future negotiations, thus relieving the Trump administration of even talking with them, let alone trying to “fix the problem” as he promised. He boasted it would be taking Jerusalem, the toughest part of the dispute, “off the table” when actually he is kicking the entire table over.
Worth noting is that it’s primarily in the Middle East where humanity’s worst traits flourish. Consider that during the Vietnam War 58,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese died, yet several decades later we’re friends: ever closer partners containing China together. Similarly, after being almost destroyed by the allies following their ill-fated wars of aggression, Germany and Japan were able to let bygones be by-gones and turn on a dime into firm allies themselves.
In the broader Middle East however, or wherever the big three revealed monotheisms clash, wounds fester for centuries and grudges are cast into a concrete of hate as permanent structures of culture. The Jewish-Islamic conflict, smoldering forever but lit in 1948 will burn for all our lifetimes, Christianity and Islam are now determined to enter a larger war of civilizations, and the real up and comer of human misery is the internecine split between Sunni and Shiite Islam. Evidence of that horrible division can be seen now in the assorted ruins formerly known as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. In fact that divide – between the Sunni Gulf and the rest verses Shi’ite Iran will be the main dynamic on earth for the foreseeable future. Religious beefs don’t get better with age.
Trump’s move, one of the most ill-considered American actions in the Middle East for a generation is just the latest iteration of a dynamic between a horribly unqualified president and the millstone of poison ideologies which will grind the region into dust.
David Anderson is an Australian-American attorney in New York City. He studied Middle East politics at Melbourne and Georgetown Universities and Arabic at the New School in NYC. He contributes to Forbes, counterpunch.org and alternet.