The Jerusalem story is the centerpiece of the news this week. Donald Trump and Mike Pence, an evangelical, are in favor of moving the embassy; Rex Tillerson and John Mattis opposed the plan prior to the announcement. The fact that state and defense departments have both found the move detrimental to U.S. interests underlines how politics trump sound policy.
Trump is trying to wrap up his evangelical constituency ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. Of course it was an unconditional gift for Netanyahu, in desperate need of any success as his criminal investigation for financial corruption approaches a climax. Domestic concerns remain in the present while deliverables for Palestinians are in the future – a distant future.
It was also a gift for the Iranians and a slap for the Saudis, who have been moving closer to Israel. Turkey has now stepped up to take the leadership role for the Muslim community. Erdogan has threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with Israel; he has also called for a meeting of Muslim leaders next week in Istanbul.
Not just the Saudis: other staunch mideast U.S. allies such as Jordan and Egypt have been undermined. Al-Azhar, the claimed arbiter of Sunni Muslim teachings, said the action will open the gates of hell. Even the Orthodox church in Egypt condemned it as violating international laws and agreements.
The West Bank erupted in demonstrations, burning the U.S. flag and effigies of Trump. Palestinians leaders both Muslim and Christian (Mahmoud Abbas and Hanan Ashrawi) spoke out against it: an interesting dynamic when evangelical Christians appear to favor Israel over fellow Christians in Palestine, but the alliance is one of temporary convenience.
Evangelicals believe in the 'rapture,' when they will be taken to heaven. For that to happen the Messiah must return to Earth, which requires the necessary condition of Jews controlling all of Israel, especially Jerusalem. However, rapture includes only those who accept Jesus as their savior. The rest, including Jews, are cast into the other place.
Trump's only support lies with right-wing Israelis. The rest – including the U.N., the E.U., U.K., Russia, China, India, and the Muslim world from Africa to Indonesia – are opposed to the gesture, a hollow one in the face of reality.
Not at all the undivided capital of Israel, Jerusalem has 220,000 Palestinians in the historic East where all the iconic religious places are located. These Palestinians have no vote, their land is occupied territory, and the United States has now contravened international law and the Oslo Accords through an implicit assumption of Israeli suzerainty.
The fact remains that Israelis seldom venture into East Jerusalem, and Palestinians stay away from the West part. It is not one city, but two. The United States will be the sole country in the world with an embassy there: a hardship post when all the embassy parties will be in Tel Aviv.
A final word: the highly successful former editor of Vanity Fair, Tina Brown, has written an autobiography (reviewed in The New Yorker, November 20). Trump is mentioned here and there: at a 1987 dinner party given by Ann Getty, he can be seen promoting himself. The best is Brown's read of "The Art of the Deal," a book she had decided to excerpt in Vanity Fair.
"It feels, when you have finished it, as if you've been nose-to-nose for four hours with an entertaining con man. I suspect the American public will like nothing better." Now we just have to wait until they begin to feel the eventual bite of the tax bill, the missing "great" healthcare plan, and the absent flood of good jobs before his voters figure the con. So the shoring up of evangelicals.
In the meantime, ask yourself this question: when the U.S. embassy moves to Jerusalem, what will happen to the one in Tel Aviv? Another Trump Tower?