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Josef Olmert: Trump Roared on Jerusalem and Reactions Are Mute

Image: Josef Olmert: Trump Roared on Jerusalem and Reactions Are Mute
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, D.C on December 6, 2017, as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looks on. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 11 December 2017 03:57 PM

It is arguably the case that when American administrations do not want to embark on any initiative which can be construed as pro-Israel, they mobilize to their cause an old weapon, General Fear. Do not do what is on the agenda, because all hell is going to break loose, and the Arab and Muslim world is going to react in a way which will turn American interests upside down, apocalypse now, if not worse.

That started with Secretary of State George C. Marshall warning President Truman against recognition of the Jewish state to be declared in 1948, and continued on many occasions until now. Truman did not blink, and gained his proper place in the Hall of Fame of the Jewish people, perhaps more importantly, in the list of great American presidents. President Trump ain’t Harry Truman, but with his announcement about Jerusalem, he showed that fear-mongering is bad advice.

It is too early to pass final verdict on the fallout of his announcement, but after few days it is becoming increasingly clear that, even in the Middle East, doing the right thing is not the trigger for a calamity. The sky hasn’t fallen, the sun shines, and the provocations of CNN and NBC correspondents are another indication that fake reporting is taking over the American media but cannot change realities on the ground.

Yes, there were some demonstrations, very poorly attended in some Arab and Muslim Capitals, very low-key riots in Jerusalem, where on some occasions in the last few days, there were more American and other Western correspondents than demonstrators, and in case we forget, the Defense Minister of Malaysia announced that his army (yes, no joke…) is ready to march to Jerusalem. The Israelis are surely on the watch listening to his threat (not really…), but when returning to the world of reality, not that of political fairy tales, it is very clear why the reaction has been so muted.

To start with, it is not really the interest of Arab and Muslim rulers to ignite large-scale demonstrations, because with the instability in so many of these countries, you know how a demonstration starts, while you never know how it ends, and who would end up being the real recipient of the popular anger. It was very clearly so during the early days of the so-called Arab Spring. There was an attempt to divert attention to the traditional bogey man of the Middle East, Israel, and the "Palestine" problem, but it did not work. That said, here we touch upon another reason. The "Palestine" problem is simply not on top of the list of problems which are on the agenda of Middle Easterners. In Yemen, they deal with a devastating civil war, starvation and cholera; in the Gulf, they deal with Iran; and the Saudi shake up, which, by far, is the most important event unfolding in the Middle East these days. In Iraq they continue to fight, and they know very well that getting rid of ISIS is not the end of their sectarian problems, and surely so in Syria. In Lebanon, the PM Hariri melodrama signaled very clearly what is the biggest problem there, again the Sushi war (Sunnis-Shi'as), rather than "Palestine."

President of Egypt Al-Sisi fights ISIS in Sinai, and the Israelis are the allies there, rather than the enemies. In fact, the Israelis are Al-Sisi’s allies also when dealing with Gaza, and while the Egyptian leader does not say it in public, his actions speak volumes in this regard.

There are two Middle East states, Iran and Turkey, which are in the business of trying to stir the pot as much as they can. The fact that they are not Arab states says a lot about the overall weakness of the Arab world these days. Iran is serious however, as the Arab Sunni world viewed it, and not Israel, as its main problem, and while the incitement from Tehran is at its height, an official delegation from Bahrain is openly visiting Israel, under the specific authorization of the King of Bahrain. This country formally announced an end of the boycott of Israel.

Bahrain knows well where the real enemy is — Iran, which tries to mobilize Bahrain’s Shi’a population against its Sunni rulers. Turkey is another story, as President Erdogan is conducting a vicious propaganda war against Israel and the U.S. The secular opposition in Turkey, though, provokes Erdogan by arguing that his government continues some forms of military cooperation with Israel, and encourages extensive trade with her. So, while Erdogan screams aloud, on the ground nothing has yet changed. This leader is erratic enough, so who knows about him.

That leaves us with Jordan and the Palestinians themselves. In the case of the former, there is a state-run agitation conducted from above by King Abdallah himself, a dangerous game on his part, and one which exposes weakness. It is the fear of the Hashemite regime about the Palestinian majority in the Kingdom, but when it comes to Jerusalem, the King needs to realize that the Israelis are hyper-sensitive as well. The Hashemite regime encouraged the UNESCO resolutions which outrageously negated any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and now the Jordanian Parliament decided to reevaluate the peace treaty with Israel. The King may think that Israel’s traditional guarantee to the very existence of Jordan under the Hashemites may prove stronger than his provocations, but he may misjudge here. There are strong elements in the Likud-led Right Wing coalition which toy in public with various versions of the "Jordan is Palestine" concept. These elements are encouraged by President Trump’s statement, that it is time to re-examine old Middle East axioms and conventional wisdoms. King Abdallah will have to take this also into account, and so will Mr. Abbas, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Abbas is working hard to agitate, inflame, and incite, but it does not work now, as it has not since 2011, when the entire Middle East seemed to be on the brink, and the PA -controlled territories were the most peaceful in the region. Abbas tries to do something, which may still lead to a political and diplomatic achievement for him. He hopes to arouse enough violence to allow him to renew contacts with the Israelis and the Americans from a position of strength, much the same as Arafat did after the riots in Jerusalem in late 1996, which brought PM Netanyahu to the table and to the major Israeli concessions in Hebron, something which is hard to envisage now.

Netanyahu of 2017 is not Netanyahu of 1996, but also the Palestinian population is not the same. In the West Bank and Gaza, there is despair, and despair can lead to violence, but also lead to the passivity of helplessness. The Palestinian population sees the events in neighboring countries, and the more prevailing feeling is that the Arab world lost a lot of interest in them.

Hamas in Gaza understood it with the attempted reconciliation agreement with the PA, and the rapprochement with Egypt, coming as they were due to the inability of the terror organization to address the problems of their population. They may still try to divert all the attention to Israel, in the wake of the Trump announcement, but they will think deep and hard before doing it, though other local factions there can still cause problems.

The overall situation in the Middle East today is still largely, if not almost exclusively, determined by the impact of the devastating repercussions of the Arab Spring and the rising Iranian influence. It is not "Palestine," not even Jerusalem. If President Trump gambled, it may still be a successful gamble and in the right time.

Dr. Josef Olmert offers a rare combination of talents; a top Middle East scholar, former peace negotiator, much published author and journalist, as well as a seasoned public speaker. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina. As director of the Government Press Office and advisor to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir during the first Gulf War and the International peace conference in Madrid, he secured press relations for Israel with the Soviet Union and China, and represented the Prime Minister in numerous conferences and appearances in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, China, Russia, Japan, Ireland, and South Africa, among others. His media experience has included penning a political column for Israel’s largest newspaper Yedioth Aharonot, as well as the Jerusalem Post, and numerous appearances on radio and TV shows all over the world. Dr. Olmert is currently a regular columnist for The Huffington Post, Times of Israel, Your Middle East, as well as many other publications.

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It is too early to pass final verdict on the fallout of his announcement, but after few days it is becoming increasingly clear that, even in the Middle East, doing the right thing is not the trigger for a calamity.
trump, jerusalem, embassy, protests
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2017-57-11
Monday, 11 December 2017 03:57 PM
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