The Trump speech will not change the reality of Jerusalem. West Jerusalem will remain an Israeli city, where Israel’s government is located since 1949. East Jerusalem will remain an occupied Palestinian city, which is not and cannot be a part of Israel. Believers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam will continue clinging to their holy sites in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, this is a historic day. In the person of President Donald Trump, the United States today officially, ceremoniously and with a bang abdicated its role as the mediator between Israel and the Arabs.
This mediating role had endured for more than forty years. Henry Kissinger created it with his “shuttle diplomacy” of the 1970’s. All later Presidents and Secretaries of State strove to maintain it. All later Presidents and Secretaries of State were jealous of the American monopoly over Middle East mediation, even to forcibly grabbing hold of negotiations processes started without them – between Israel and Egypt in 1978, between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993. Until Donald Trump came along and in typical Trumpian style decided to spectacularly smash up this mediation role.
In fact, the US mediation role had always been a curious anomaly. In no commercial dispute would it be conceivable to have as arbiter the business partner of one of the contending parties. But in the world of Middle East diplomacy, it was accepted almost without question that the role of impartial honest broker be given to Israel’s closest ally, the provider of billions in financial aid and state of the art weapons systems and an almost automatic veto in the UN Security Council.
Obama and Kerry did make some belated and half-hearted efforts to appear impartial. But Trump decided to tear off America’s face any mask of impartiality and trample it underfoot.
What now? Well, for some time there will be no mediator in the Middle East, and hence no kind of Peace Process. But sooner or later, the vacuum is going to be filled. Who might fill it? One name which comes to mind is of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who had just shown himself able to play a highly effective and energetic – though quite brutal – role in Syria. Russia has long-standing cordial relations with the Palestinians, in the past decade Putin has built up intensive relations with Netanyahu as well. Taking up the abandoned mediation role between Israel and the Palestinians would fit nicely within Putin’s project of restoring Russia’s global power.
Then, the European Union – even though beset by many crises – might take up a more assertive role in the Middle East. Especially France, which has traditionally tended to take its own independent initiatives. Or even China, which not so long ago appointed its own Middle East representative.
Altogether, there might eventually emerge a mediator or mediators who would be a bit more impartial than we had so far. And if so, there might be an ironical reason to feel grateful to Donald Trump…