Operation Jerusalem Capital: Second Balfour Declaration or Arab-Israeli NATO?

Photo by zeevveez | CC BY 2.0

You have to admire the cynical brilliance of the electoral mummery of the United States, which yielded Donald Trump for president. From the point of view of the enterprising Robinson Crusoe-like US establishment, the “slurring” upstart, possibly godless brute, Man Friday, though as rich as Croesus, has usurped the management of the Exceptional Island of United States together with the imagined god-blessed shining city on the hill.

This is a performance. Though President Friday is merely the open and concentrated expression of their predatory economic vulgarity, the Crusoe establishment cry out hypocritically, “Why has God done this to me? What have I done to be thus used?” Despite their protestations, President Friday does exactly what any Republican or Democrat President Crusoe would have done (and nefariously has done for the last four decades in domestic and foreign policy), but the convenience of an oafish, crude, and politically-incorrect President Friday is that his outrageous policy pronouncements, though no effective departure from the bi-partisan consensus of the last forty years, can be publicly disowned.

Trump will be remembered as “the president of plausible deniability.” This effect is nowhere more evident than in Trump’s foreign policy.

Take his latest apparent debacle over Jerusalem. Trump’s declaration of the corpus separatum (“separate body”) of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on the surface an arbitrary, unnecessary, decidedly unlawful, and irrational action is plaintively lamented domestically, sententiously denounced abroad by those ever-treacherous European vassals, and vehemently protested by the leading US comprador-clients in the Arab-Muslim world.

But what’s the complaint? According to the gated elite of the “international community,” that clod, Trump, has made an “ill-considered” decision, which breaks with decades of US neutrality on the “most sensitive issue” in the Middle East and damages a “peace process” which has been fixed at infinity for decades.

What “neutrality”? To begin with, the historic occupation of the land of Palestine by the Zionist settlers could not have survived without the support of British imperialism and its post-war heir, American imperialism.  On 9 November of 1917, two days after the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace and only weeks before they “liberated” from the czar’s files and released to the world the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement infamously divvying up the Ottoman imperial region in the Middle East between Britain and France, British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, publicly promised to grant the land of Palestine to the Zionist organization’s planners to reconstitute Palestine as a Jewish National Home.

It could have worked, but unfortunately the Arab Palestinians rebelled. They owned 91 percent of the land in Palestine against 7 percent owned by Palestinian Jews, including land acquired by the Zionist Palestine Agency (a special branch of the World Zionist Organization) since 1917 for projected settlement of Jewish immigrants. The Arab Revolt of 1936-39 in Palestine, demanding independence from the British Mandate and an end to Jewish immigration and land purchase, forced the British Foreign Office to embark on the proposal for a two-state solution, which eventually resulted in 1948 in the awarding of 60 percent of Palestine to Israel; 40 percent to Palestine —with the immediate recognition of the independent state of Israel and only a nebulous provisional status for Palestine.

Eventually, the sun finally set on the British Empire. Already in 1953, while France was busy with a war losing colonial Indochina (1954) and was setting to lose a war in colonial Algeria (1962), Britain, hobbled over to Washington, begging bowl in hand, to plead for help in overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mossadegh. Washington agreed, provided London handed over 40 percent interests in Persian Oil. The CIA conducted a coup, which resulted in the Pahlavi Shah’s Iran becoming America’s imperially scenographic and bloody watchdog in the Middle East for two and a half decades.  The “Suez-Canal Crisis” of 1956 marked the official expulsion of the British Empire from the world’s map, when, along with France, it was unceremoniously sent packing by the new hegemon in the region and the world, the United States. Israel, which had colluded with Britain and France against Nasser’s Egypt, got the message of whose coat tails it should now clutch to continue the expropriation and colonization of Palestine, but it took the 1967 “Seven-Day War” for the United States to start plunking serious ready on the Israeli military—today, 3 billion dollars per year—as an able and divisive police force obstructing Arab unity and cutting short Arab secular nationalism by manipulating the Palestinian issue.

As to the “peace process”: it has been a repetitive, time-buying negotiating ruse to permit the consolidation of Israeli take-over of the Occupied Territories. One-hundred years since the Balfour Declaration and fifty years since UN Resolution 242 mandating Israel’s withdrawal from the territories occupied in the 1967 war (which Israel renamed “Disputed Territories,” in order to elude Geneva Conventions and ignore Resolution 242), Israel’s unique anomaly in today’s neo-colonial practice of subordinating Third World spaces by economic means consists in being an example of classic 19th century European colonialism: a colonizing, racist, segregationist settlers’ state.

Because international law and human rights declarations are all on the side of the Palestinians in their right to resist occupation and fight for independence, “neutrality” is hardly an issue.  However, in the fifty years since 1967, the United States’ has assumed the mantle of  “honest broker” in the neutrality charade called “the peace process,” inviting the whole “international community” and the Palestinians themselves to support a two-state solution, while doing nothing to stop Israel’s illegal construction of colonies in the Occupied Territories, the confiscation of Palestinian lands, the demolition of Palestinian houses, the multitudinous policies and measures of ethnic cleansing, the humiliation of checkpoints and Israeli-only roads, the ghetto walls, and the periodic terror bombings of Gaza, tank invasions of Palestinian enclaves and refugee camps, mass  arrests, searches, and detentions—an occupation UN Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, has classified as “an affront to international law.”

If Trump’s allegedly precipitous declaration to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has neither terminated a non-existent policy of US neutrality nor interrupted the virtual mirage of the peace process, why, exactly, has he done it? Is it because he’s “stupid”? After all, shortly after issuing his declaration he disowned it, saying the American embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not happen for at least six months. Taking advantage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, providing for an executive prerogative of consecutive six months for delaying the move, he acted exactly the way his predecessors, Clinton, Bush, and Obama, had acted: sustaining the move in principle but delaying it to safeguard the equilibrium of US alliances with both Arab and Israeli clients (Senator Bob Dole had sought but failed to make the move mandatory). According to the Jerusalem Embassy Act, the executive delay is valid as long as the President “determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”

He’s not stupid (in the self-congratulatory and comforting sense)—that’s the conceit of those Democrats who follow Hillary Clinton’s dismissal of half of Trump’s constituency as “a basket of deplorables.” What’s been “stupid” is the pursuit by the Bush-Obama administration of the plan to attack seven Middle-Eastern countries in five years. Apart from wrecking several countries, committing war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the plan has stalled in Syria at the end of the Obama administration. What’s “stupid” is that Trump inherits and presides over a blocked US strategy in the Middle East.

The US-Israeli-Saudi axis has been defeated in the attempt to “re-stabilize” the Middle East in their interests—significantly through the agency of Isis in Syria and Iraq. This defeat has strengthened Iran as a regional power, lately consolidated by Iran’s winning alliance with Hezbollah and Russia in Syria. The disastrous consequences of the Bush-Obama Middle-Eastern misadventures now require a drastic change of course.  If the road to Iran can no longer pass through Damascus, why not try through Jerusalem? Why not use the Jerusalem card to provide the Arab satrapies with a diplomatic excuse to officialize the subterranean alliance lately become de-facto, for example, between Israel and Saudi Arabia? If the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, well, that becomes a fact on the ground. It means the US has taken sides; it means an unambiguous alliance between the US and Israel against Iran. Can the Arab satrapies reject the opportunity to join the alliance when the objective is Iran and its fabulous spoils? After all, it used to be said that if America sneezes, the world catches cold, so when Trump coughed up the snot that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” his advisors may well have calculated that the Arab leaders would catch bronchitis and seek the remedy in Tel Aviv. It may not matter that the mucous was immediately wiped off: the blip of the White House’s proclamation may provide enough diplomatic cover to justify an official alliance with Israel in the quest to overwhelm Iran.

Or so the White House’s thinking goes: an Arab-Israeli NATO with a capital in Jerusalem. The world laughed when “stupid” Trump floated the idea of an “Arab NATO” in Riyadh April last. But here it is, the bizarre scenario acknowledged by that CIA rag, the Washington Post .

Trump’s Jerusalem gamble is thus less about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace than about whether Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran can be achieved in its absence. Israel’s tacit cooperation with Gulf states against Iran, long kept in the shadows, has increasingly been brought into the open despite the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Jerusalem gambit may well force a public reckoning over this semiprivate alignment.

The Washington Post’s analysis acknowledges that Trump’s move on Jerusalem is a gamble. It drops the comedy of the “peace process,” the US fake persona of the “honest broker,” and the whole charade of neutrality. It privileges one side in the former equilibrium of alliances—Israel’s—and coerces the Arab sides to formally accept the imbalance, holding the carrot of Tehran at the end of the nasty stick.

Will the deal work? Only time will tell, but it is certainly a sign of American decline in diplomacy and power in the Middle East, since it points to its inability to “govern” regional allies with even the former appearance of neutrality. It sanctions the historic and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, who wanted East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state. Their capital expropriated, how serious is the promise of a state? And in apartheid Israel, what choice do they have but to rise up or submit?  The only things we can expect from this change of course are, therefore, increased tension, violence, illegality, while Iran remains—and fortunately for the feeble peace of the world—a wild, desperate, and madly obstinate long shot.

Luciana Bohne was co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and taught at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.