In Dutch we have a saying, “behaving like an elephant in a porcelain shop”. It means you are unaware or inconsiderate of other people’s sensitivities. This idiom does not cover the actions President Trump took this week. Rather, the GOP elephant came in like a wrecking ball, leveled the porcelain shop and set fire to the rubble.
By confirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump has dropped a bomb on a conflict that has been at a political impasse for years. Both the Israelis as well as the Palestinians claim (a part of) Jerusalem as their capital. Their reasons are historical, religious, and political, and therefore identitarian and highly inflammable.
One cannot help but ask why. Trump’s claim that the decision could be a first step in finally reaching a definite peaceful solution is unconvincing. The surge in violent demonstrations from the Palestinian side, met with equally violent counteractions by the Israeli forces, is sadly proof of that. Geopolitical and diplomatic ignorance also fails as an explanation this time. When Western and Middle-Eastern leaders unanimously try and dissuade you, “wir haben es nicht gewusst” (we did not know) is not a satisfactory answer.
No, Trump’s actions speak a clear yet cynical message. By legitimizing Israel’s claim and denying Palestine’s, he hopes to score with the fundamentalist religious voter, who prefers to keep his own ‘Holy City’ free from Arabs. The fact that this might lead to possible deaths in the region itself, to a new surge of Islamic terrorism in western countries, that this might have been the final straw for a people living under constant occupation, all of this is of secondary importance. Constituency kowtow with no consideration for the consequences.
It is easy to be numbed by a Trump presidency, shrug at yet another of his offensive speeches, make fun of his mistakes, laugh at his tweets. Trump being Trump. This reckless decision should remind us to remain vigilant. Trump has shown us that he is willing to burn down the world if he can be emperor of the ashes. In a leader where all foreign communication is a hissy fit demonstration, this is a dangerous quality.
National pushback is not to be expected here. The new tax reform bill enriched the Republican majority enough for them to turn a blind eye for a while. Therefore, more international pressure is necessary. Other Western countries in particular, whose decisions after World War II have formed the bedrock of the current conflict in Jerusalem, cannot stand idly by. Silence is not enough. Remaining passive actively demonstrates where your priorities lie. Economic considerations should take a backseat to humanitarian ones. This will be just as important for western citizens as for Palestinians themselves. Although these last ones have long been denied a few minutes of international political courage.