Trump's Jerusalem decision

Unleashing a new wave of radicalisation?

After 1967, jihadists and Islamists mobilised people by highlighting the victimisation of Muslims and Islam. In the wake of Trump's internationally condemned decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, jihadist and Islamist groups could now use Palestine as proof of their theory that there is a "war on Islam". Trump's declaration plays right into their hands. Commentary by Abdalhadi Alijla

In early December 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that he recognised Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. With this uncalculated move, Trump not only went against the will, resolutions and aspirations of the international community, he also continued his unconditional support for the right-wing government in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump's decision was greeted with condemnation by Arab states, Islamic countries, European nations, Russia and China. Even Pope Francis criticised the president's move. The Turkish prime minister warned that the move would trigger holy war in the region, and Iran's parliament declared that Trump's decision could lead to conflict.

Stinging international rebuke

On 21 December, 192 states voted in favour of a non-binding resolution at the UN, rejecting Trump's decision and declaring it null and void. On the one hand, the UN General Assembly resolution is a slap in the face for Trump's foreign policy, since for the first time, almost all Western nations voted against the wishes of the US or abstained from voting. On the other, Trump is breaking with the US's long history of diplomacy with regard to the Middle East and, in particular, the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which the US has played the role of peace broker. With his decision, Trump has made the US part of the conflict rather than a peace mediator.

Protesters in East Jerusalem following Trump's decision on Jerusalem (photo: Reuters/A. Awad)
At least two people were killed and dozens injured in clashes with police in the occupied Palestinian territories in the days following President Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Many thousands more protested across the Muslim world, with at least 80,000 demonstrating in Jakarta, Indonesia, alone. Pictured here: protesters in East Jerusalem

According to the 2016 Arab Barometer, which covered seven Arab countries (Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Tunis, Morocco, Palestine and Lebanon), 14 per cent of the people surveyed said they considered the US the greatest threat to the region, with 36 per cent viewing Israel as the main threat. Less than 6 per cent saw Iran as the main threat to the region or source of instability. In the same survey, when asked about the best positive policy the US could pursue in the region, 42 per cent said it would be not to get involved and 25 per cent said it would be to solve the Arab–Israeli conflict.

While Trump's decision triggered protests across the Muslim world – primarily in the Palestinian occupied territories – I believe the real impact will become apparent in the long term. The figures mentioned above are just one-year-old; a new poll could show that a majority believes that the US is the primary source of insatiability in the region.

Trump is not only setting himself against the international community's will in order to satisfy his and Netanyahu's whim, he is also putting his country at risk because a majority of young people in the Middle East believe that the US is as great an enemy as Israel.

Long-term impact

On 6 December, Washington abandoned its role as peace broker, enforcing a solution that was rejected by all parties except the Israeli prime minister and his allies. Trump's decision has put Arab regimes in an unenviable position. After all, they allied themselves with Trump during his recent visit to the region. They will now be perceived as his allies in handing over one of Islam and Christianity's most holy cities to Netanyahu.

The long-term outcome of Trump's decision is destructive, if not catastrophic. With this decision, Trump has shocked the Muslim and Arab World. The effects of this shock will not be less than the impact of the 1967 war when Israel occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai and the Golan Heights.

Leaders of Islamic nations at the conference of the OIC in Istanbul, 13 December 2017 (photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Pitarakis)
A final communiqué, agreed by delegates from all 57 members from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday, called on "all countries to recognise the State of Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital". Pictured here: leaders of Islamic nations at the conference of the OIC in Istanbul, 13 December 2017

However, the main difference here is that there is now no Arab or Muslim leadership that can absorb the impact and instantly fill the gap to meet the demands of the Muslim and Arab nations. Despite the fact that Turkey and Iran are filling the gaps as regional powers, standing up to Israel and Israeli policies, the current situation will lead to a new wave of radicalisation.

Fanning the flames of renewed radicalisation

After 1967, one argument used by jihadists and Islamists to mobilise individuals was the victimisation of Muslims and Islam. Jihadist and Islamist groups might now use Palestine as proof of their theory that there is a "war on Islam". The declaration that Jerusalem is the capital to Israel is grist to the mill of this narrative.

In my opinion, the current political situation is similar to that of 1979, which saw the Islamic revolution, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Arab boycott of Egypt after the peace treaty, the Muslim Brotherhood's coup d'état in Sudan and the creation of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). New players are now involved and the consequences will be long term.

New radical groups will form and existing radical groups will recreate themselves after their defeat in Syria and Iraq. Their comeback will be facilitated by Jerusalem and the issue of Palestine. As Mohammed Masharqa points out, it is possible that an alliance could be formed between leftist groups and jihadi Salafists, which are both hostile to Arab regimes. However, there is stronger evidence to suggest that the current situation will give Muslim Brotherhood activists or loyalists new hope for their fight.

In short, given the frustration and hopelessness felt by the young, Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will motivate groups and individuals that are hostile to the US and Arab regimes to regroup and recreate themselves. The radicalisation process in the region and its consequences could be catastrophic in every respect and spread chaos across the whole region.

Abdalhadi Alijla

© 2017

Abdalhadi Alijla is the executive director of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies Canada (IMESC). He serves as the regional manager for Gulf countries at Varieties of Democracy Institute, Gothenburg University, Sweden. He has PhD in Political Studies from Milan University. He is a Palestinian-Swdish academic and writer.

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