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Thursday, December 21, 2017

What changed with Trump's Jerusalem announcement?

From A World to Win News Service:
U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital has been seen by too many people as "ego driven" or otherwise irrational, an attempt to distract from his roiling political and legal challenges. This is a misreading of an extremely dangerous situation. There is ample evidence that the Trump regime had planned this move long before his current political troubles. In fact, it was another of his campaign promises that too few liberals took seriously.

Reading from a carefully crafted speech, Trump stressed both the continuity of his decision with U.S. policy during the previous decades, and the idea that this move constituted a "new approach" in light of "failing strategies". The "new approach" is that, like elsewhere in the world, Trump is deliberately exacerbating antagonisms in the Middle East while stripping off the liberal veneer that had cloaked US policy for years and nakedly asserting US hegemony and ramping up moves to achieve that.

The argument for continuity was that Congress has called for the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem since 1995. This actually does capture the deliberate degree of ambiguity – or doublespeak – in officially stated U.S. policy. Overwhelmingly it has been whole-heartedly and unabashedly pro-Zionist. Yet the U.S. has also dangled the possibility that it might use its influence to restrain Israel (for instance, one day they just might limit the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank). This has enabled Washington to turn the Palestinian Authority, whose core, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was historically so important in the Palestinian resistance, into an ally of the Israel security forces in controlling the Palestinians. Calling the U.S. an "honest broker" in Israeli-Palestinian relations is just a nice name for the ugly reality that the U.S. has used the "peace process" to control Palestinians and give a little political cover to regimes like Egypt, whose complicity has greatly aided Israel in turning Gaza into an open-air prison.

Trump very deliberately left open just enough room for the PA and its chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and others, to continue this collaboration. By saying that he was "not taking a position of (sic) any final status issues", Trump offered the thin hope that the U.S. might support some sort of Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem someday. He also neither endorsed nor rejected the idea of a future two-state solution (one state each for Palestinians and Israelis), although he made it clear that if it did happen it would have to be on terms acceptable to Israel ("acceptable to both sides").

But Trump's announcement also represents a leap in the resolution of what has been a small, deliberate degree of ambiguity and hypocrisy in the U.S.'s role by giving an official blessing to Israel's appetite for conquered territories. Approving Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the name of simply recognizing "reality" is also a major step towards official approval for Israel to permanently occupy all or most of the West Bank, dangerously stepping up the on-going ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Zionist theocratic state. Under these circumstances there is of course no possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

Further, Trump deliberately humiliated the Palestinian Authority and the Middle Eastern regimes that support it. This will certainly cause trouble for Saudi Arabia, for example, whose ruling family, while increasingly allied with Trump and implicitly aligned with Israeli interests, still depends on its claimed role as defender of the Sunni Moslem faith and holy sites to legitimize the monarchy.

This doesn't mean that Trump has undone his alliance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. Rather, he rubbed the Saudi rulers' nose in the fact that they can't do anything about his moves and that this is anything but an alliance of equals. The same goes for the Jordanian monarchy (half whose subjects are Palestinian) and Egypt's ruling general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Trump also shamed the European powers, whose powerlessness to mount an effective challenge to U.S. policy is on full display. Instead of being defensive about the fact that Trump's move represents a violation of all existing UN resolutions and international laws against the forcible annexation of territory, Trump's UN ambassador Nikki Haley spewed out a diatribe against the UN itself. This was in line with Trump's recent threat to close down the Palestinian Authority's UN offices if the Palestinians dare bring charges against Israel before the International Criminal Court. In all of this, the point is to declare and demonstrate that international law, diplomatic considerations and the opinions of allied countries are not going to deter the U.S. from a more aggressive global assertion of “America First”. This is very much related to Trump's threats to wipe out North Korea.

Trump's move did bring ecstasy to evangelical Christians, a pillar of his support among civilians and the military. These Bible literalists are convinced that Trump is doing “god’s work” to bring about Christ's dominion on earth, which, in their ideology, requires the fulfilment of a Biblical prophecy of a Jewish messiah enthroned in Jerusalem (although many of them believe that in the second act of that epic drama those Jews who do not accept Christ will be cast into hell to burn forever along with Moslems and most everyone else). Trump made this speech accompanied by his Christian fundamentalist vice-president Mike Pence and flanked by two American flags and two Christmas trees. The decorated pines were odd for a president's office but not funny now that Trump has declared their display a symbol of resistance to "the war" on Christian values.

Trump's speech invoked god four times in the last seconds and referred to "Moslems" instead of Palestine. This depiction of the Palestinian question as a religious conflict between "Christian" (or sometimes "Judeo-Christian") civilization and Islam benefits the fascist Trump and his Christian fascist partners, other imperialist ideologues and the Zionists. But it also benefits the Saudis, the Emirates monarchs and the region's other reactionary regimes. It is very much to the advantage of jihadi Salafists like Daesh (also known as ISIS) and the Islamic Republic of Iran. This confluence of interests between enemies was illustrated when Israel followed up on Trump's speech by attacking what it said were Hamas facilities, killing two people. Journalists from The New York Times and Le Monde said this was done for political rather than military reasons. Hamas, with its religious fundamentalism and ties to Iran, has long been a favoured opponent of Israel.

Bob Avakian described this kind of contention between Western imperialists (McWorld/McCrusade) and jihadist forces as "the two outmodeds" – “historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system” and pointed out that, “These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these 'outmodeds,' you end up strengthening both.” Forces like Hamas want to cast the Palestinian struggle for national liberation against Israel in religious terms. This poses a serious challenge to adherents of the Palestinian cause. What is needed is a fight for liberation that is part of the larger fight to free humanity from all forms of oppression and the obscurantism that both reflects and sustains it, while at the same time fighting imperialist attempts to use Islamic fundamentalism as a pretext for further attacks.

Israel was carved out by the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestine's inhabitants, and further mass slaughter or worse will likely be required for its continued existence as a state defined by religion and/or the DNA that for Zionism determines identity. Israel's character as a settler state and consequently its inability to survive without powerful imperialist backing is what has made it a good match for American needs, an essential pillar of U.S. control over the region for decades. What Trump represents is not only the replacement of cynical Western liberal imperialist values with religious fundamentalism and the new level of unconcealed bloodthirstiness that it enables. He is also responding to the necessity for a new drive for what he calls "the Great American Comeback". This means fortifying U.S. domination in the face of a changing world situation, including rivalries with other imperialist powers (including Germany and Russia, and increasingly China) and efforts by regional powers (like Turkey and Iran) and other hungry reactionary enemies to improve their position within the oppressive world order at the U.S.'s expense. This, for Trump, requires both an end to any ambiguity in U.S./Israeli relations and an even more aggressive role for Israel in the region – maybe, even for instance, against Iran. Trump's announcement promises exactly the opposite of what he said was its goal – peace in the Middle East.

When Trump entered the White House a year ago, some well-intentioned people thought that it didn't matter because the situation for the Palestinians could not get worse. But now the world faces the real possibility that Israel may shed blood on an even more massive scale in Palestine and elsewhere. This highlights the link between the struggle in the U.S. to drive out the fascist Trump/Pence regime and other just struggles everywhere against imperialism and its attack dogs like Israel. 

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