Belfast Telegraph

By throwing in his lot with Israel Trump has lost the right to be an honest broker in the Middle East

We in NI know only too well the need to avoid stoking tensions in a divided region, writes Alban Maginness

The announcement that President Trump, on behalf of the United States of America, was recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been greeted with almost universal condemnation. Even the closest allies of the USA - the United Kingdom, France and Germany - have all severely criticised or condemned President Trump's decision.

These countries and many others who are not hostile to Israel and are firm supporters of the Israeli state, are baffled by the recklessness of Trump's unilateral decision on behalf of America.

They are fearful of this decision pushing an already seething Middle East into further strife and bloodshed.

There was a predictably angry and, at times, violent reaction in the Palestinian territories and in the wider Arab and Muslim world. All of this has left the President unmoved; his decision, he delusionally says, is, " a magnificent tribute to peace" in the Middle East.

He has argued that he is only recognising the facts on the ground; that Jerusalem is, in fact, administratively and politically the capital of Israel.

On foot of this decision he will move the American embassy from Tel Aviv in the near future. While the movement of the embassy will seal the deal sometime in the future, it is his de jure recognition now that is the problem.

What his decision does is two things. One, he is acting unilaterally against the international diplomatic consensus that regards the Israeli presence in East Jerusalem as unlawful and unacceptable. It is, in fact, contrary to United Nations Resolution 242, which has been the basic international position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for decades. This resolution calls for the withdrawal of Israel from all the Occupied Territories - including East Jerusalem.

Secondly, he is acting in a partisan fashion and is seen to be officially siding with Israel on the final status of Jerusalem. Since the Oslo Accords in 1993, it has been agreed internationally that this sensitive and critical issue of Jerusalem must only be determined as part of a final comprehensive peace deal between Israel and Palestine.

By throwing his lot in with the Israelis on this vitally important and sensitive issue of the status of the Holy City, he has abdicated the traditional role that the USA has held as an independent arbiter for peace in the region. Unfortunately, the USA is now unacceptable to the Palestinians as an independent peacemaker.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, in response to Trump's announcement, declared that: " The US is no longer qualified to sponsor the peace process."

But there is also a wider and more fundamental problem that arises. And that is, by his actions, he has seriously - and perhaps fatally - undermined the goal of a two-state solution to the conflict. While, in recent years, the two-state solution has been for all intents and purposes on life support, it is at least an aspiration that the international community can work towards achieving.

Sadly, the two-state solution is the only viable alternative to the status quo. The worst alternative is the terrifying prospect of all-out war.

The two-state proposition is only notionally accepted by the present right-wing government of Prime Minister Netanyahu. For years Netanyahu has skilfully exploited the deadlocked situation to frustrate the development of a corresponding independent Palestinian state to that of Israel.

Netanyahu has hailed Trump's declaration, saying that "the Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful". A wiser and more strategic Israeli leader, with a cleverer long-term view for Israel's peace and security, would surely have cautioned Trump by urging him to maintain the USA's role as an independent arbiter between the two peoples and to avoid the increased instability that this decision has undoubtedly created in the Middle East.

Now, America is internationally isolated thanks to Trump's decision, and has forfeited its leading role in solving one of the world's most contentious and pressing problems.

The problem will not go away, but has been made very much worse by Trump's misguided declaration.

At the heart of all of this is a mutual antagonism and hostility between two Semitic peoples that prevents them from living together on a very small expanse of disputed territory. It sounds all very familiar.

Back in Northern Ireland, we have conducted a successful peace process with great difficulty and created an imperfect political peace. That being so, we have something valuable to give to the Israelis and Palestinians by sharing our collective political experience in peace-building.

Therefore we should be friends - albeit critical friends - of both the Israelis and Palestinians and truly help them to build a just and lasting peace.

What we shouldn't do is to become partisan and take sides and thereby add to division and conflict that needs very little stoking.

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