There are a number of statements that we can agree on: recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to it is a shortsighted, irresponsible decision by US President Trump. This should be the time the disadvantaged parties to reexamine the history of the Middle East conflict with clear eyes and intellectual minds instead of the prevailing emotional reaction of old.
The future is bleak long as Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims keep resorting to same old feel-good responses. A long-term effective strategy to achieve a resolution will be fraught with hard work, tough decisions, and agonizing negotiations. Above all, it requires constant and frank discussions between the conflicting parties. There is no other way to achieve peace.
To be clear, on the face of it, Trump’s decision predetermines the outcome of the sensitive and complex status of the holy city of Jerusalem. Palestinians and the greater Muslim world are rightfully furious. The prospect of increased violence in the Middle East is palatable. This decision rubs the face of Palestinians further down in the mud of injustice.
Muslims feel that such US recognition of Jerusalem as a Jewish city is tantamount to negating the sacredness of al-Aqsa; Islam’s first Holy mosque. Trump’s poor judgment regarding the middle East conflict extends to hammering the last nail in the coffin of America's claim to neutrality. The US role as an objective mediator is all but dead.
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Let’s be true to ourselves, protesting the decision will not lead to its reversal. So what are the options to respond to this skewed decision? The answer can be found in deep introspection accounting for the deteriorating Palestinian negotiating position over the previous seven decades starting with Palestinian division between Fatah and Hamas.
Both Palestinian groups need to advance the primary goal entrusted to them by the Palestinian people: stopping any further suffering of the people and ending the state of perennial conflict. A resolution without negotiations in impossible.
The energy spent on outrage needs to be redirected into public campaigns to win over the sympathetic American peopleWalid Jawad
Negotiations without tangible and realistic gains is a charade. Past theatrics steeped in emotional grandstanding in the cause of abstract dignity and justice will no longer pacify the masses. Palestinian basic rights and exercisable self-governance must be the guiding light.
This Jerusalem episode is the latest example of lack of progress by the Palestinians, and Arabs by extension, over the life of the conflict. The emphasis has been on dignity and justice when there are none to be had. War is war. The humiliation of defeat doesn’t take away from the honor of the fight. Multiple wars against Israel had lead to Arabs losing more land than gaining.
Arab dignity would have been preserved by gracious acceptance of defeat on the battlefield. Justice is an abstract concept that means something different to different people. Calls from pushing Jews into the sea (once a battle cry) to live-and-let-live and every combination in between qualify as calls for justice.
It remains that the responsibility of Palestinian leaders is to stop any and all unnecessary suffering by the Palestinian people before making any demands under the banner of justice. Once that is achieved, justice must be fair and practical to acknowledge trauma and correcting of the ensuing suffering.
The peace process
The stalled peace process emboldened Trump to hijack one of the most sticking points reserved for final status negotiations. Nevertheless, Jerusalem’s final status will be decided exclusively by the Palestinians and Israelis as part of the final status negotiation.
Although Palestinians feel that Trump has forced their hand into an undesirable outcome, it is not the case. Perhaps they feel it will lead to nullifying any future peace negotiations. Whatever the feelings are, the future of the Middle East resides with Palestinians signing off on a satisfactory peace agreement.
Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a political gesture that doesn’t damage the peace process; it’s already stalled. Yet its potential for permanent damage is real. A trap, so to speak. It's the trap that only the Palestinians can walk in if they wish to acquiesce. Potential change to the reality of Jerusalem is directly correlated to the degree the parties are willing to allow for.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only possible through an agreement both sides willing to accept. It is worth remembering that numerous opportunities were squandered in the past. Half of historic Palestine would have been a reality if Arabs would have accepted the UN’s 1947 partition plan. now the starting point is much less; noncontiguous land along the 1967 lines.
Friday’s Day of Rage protests will not change the equation. To affect change in US policy one must understand that American foreign policy is confined to the four year limit of the presidential election cycle. Peace has been elusive over the decades despite earnest attempts by many US presidents. The isles of the White House and the State Department has always been a model of frustrated busy work looking for ways to help move the parties closer to an agreement.
The fallout of instability
The US knows that it can sway the equation in favor of Israel, but will have to live with the fallout of instability and violence. Every US president up until Trump took office, has attempted to be even-handed with both sides. The results have been disappointing.
That delicate dance only invited the ire of both sides. Now that it is taking sides, it is, in fact, marginalizing itself. Nevertheless, there is no scenario where the peace process would not include the US. It is important to account for the tremendous leverage the US has on the process
The outrage of the demonstrators on the streets are in vain. The energy exerted by them is not directed toward creating the right environment for peace to prevail. Demonstrators need to understand that US foreign policy is guided by the American people.
The energy spent on outrage needs to be redirected into public campaigns to win over the sympathetic American people. Communicating the suffering befalling the Palestinian people will induce empathy and connection with the Palestinians and their cause. Digital tools are abundant and offer unparalleled reach.
The only limitation is activists’ ability to translate the injustice into an emotional language that would resonate with Americans. Protesting has its utility, but it needs to be one that prompts their own leaders to engage in effective political strategies based on results and not empty rhetoric.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at US Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (BA) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.