Why Jerusalem matters

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Today President Trump made the United States the first country to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem, of course, has been controlled by Israel in its entirety since 1967, and West Jerusalem has been administered by Israel since 1948. Israel itself is adamant that the undivided city will remain its capital. And yet, this decision could be one of the most destructive Trump has taken since coming to office. So how did this become such a debate, and why is this such a bad decision?

How did we get here?

 

 

Israel’s formation in 1948 was a messy affair which I won’t get into here, and it involved injustices on all sides. Jerusalem was just one issue. The UN has resolved that it should be a ‘corpus seperatum’ – a fancy word for a city that was neither Israeli nor Palestinian, but a holy place that should be internationally administered. However, in the 1948 war between Israel and the Arab states, Israel took West Jerusalem, and Jordan the East – the section which includes the Old City and some of the holiest sites to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Neither of these actions was legal under international law, and neither was recognised.

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Then, in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel took East Jerusalem as well, and immediately began treating the city as a reunited capital. The annexation was condemned by the UN Security Council, and has never been recognised by any state. The UN and all member states consider the status of all of Jerusalem an issue to be solved in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. All states have their embassy in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem, as that would imply recognition.

 

In 1995 though, the US Senate decided to get involved, so they passed a resolution that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that the US embassy should be moved there. Every president since has postponed moving the embassy every six months, as the resolution allows, and have not officially recognised it as the capital. Now, however, Trump has thrown this out the window. So why is this such a huge issue?

1. It cripples the chances for peace

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most difficult issues preventing peace between Israel and Palestine. It’s generally assumed that, in broad strokes, West Jerusalem could  become part of Israel, and East Jerusalem in some form the capital of Palestine, though the Israelis dispute this. However, an exact division always been an issue that would be up for discussion in a final settlement. The US siding with Israel makes a compromise far more difficult

2. It means the US can never again be an effective mediator in regional conflicts

For decades the US has tried to play a mediating role between Israel and Palestine – with not too much success. Despite the fact that the US is Israel’s strongest ally, in general they could at least present themselves as a fairly neutral partner in negotiations. However, by taking Israel’s side on such a vital matter to both sides, and in a way that no other country has, it will be almost impossible for the Palestinians to ever take them seriously again. Arab countries too will be infuriated – this is going to further damage the US’s position in the region.

3. It hurts the US’s relations with the world

The Trump presidency has not exactly been a success for the US on the world stage, with trust in the US plummeting. By rejecting a position that the UN and entire world have taken, Trump yet again shows that his administration is not interested in engaging productively with others. The idea that you cannot annex territory that you conquer in a war is so key to the way states interact – just look at how few states have recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea. For the US to recognise Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem weakens their position in every way.

4. It’s being done for stupid reasons

Let’s be honest, does anyone think Trump has deeply held positions on the status of Jerusalem? He did this because the evangelical conservative base of his party wants to see it happen, and he could do with a boost in the polls. The idea that this will somehow “advance the peace process” is a joke – the Palestinians are hardly going to roll over and accept that Jerusalem is no longer up for discussion.

This is a decision no one agrees with, and that will help no one except the right-wingers in Israel and the United States. The days ahead will already show whether the reaction is as bad as I expect, but it’s already another confirmation that when you elect a terrible person president, you get terrible policy.

 

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Five reasons Donald Trump will be a terrible President

On the 20th of January Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President, bringing to an end a bizarre and vicious campaign, and an embarrassing and messy transition period. It is no longer possible to blissfully forget that this man has been elected 45th President of the United States. But in the deluge of constant media coverage, it’s almost easy to forget just how bad this is. So without looking at any of his actual policies, any of the people he has appointed to his cabinet, just to who he is and what he does, here are five reasons it really is that bad.

Conflicts of interest

As numerous legal experts have pointed out, Trump is completely compromised by his business interests. Running the country while owning a massive business is an impossible conflict of interest. Is a man clearly obsessed with wealth really going to make decisions on behalf of the country that hurt his own wallet?

Trump knows this perfectly well, but all his efforts to avoid having such a conflict are a joke. His whole plan essentially boils down to “trust me”. His children are going to run his business, while somehow not telling him about what they’re doing. “Trust me.” The profits (and just the profits, he wouldn’t want to make a loss) from foreign diplomats and leaders staying in his hotels will be donated to the government. “Trust me.” He won’t make any foreign deals or let his interests abroad affect his foreign policy. “Trust me”.

The fact that his attempt to deal with these conflicts of interests is so lazy indicates that he knows very well his business will influence his decisions – but just doesn’t care.

Government is not a business

This business past is also another problem – the government is by no means a business. Trump runs his own business along authoritarian lines. What he says, goes, and if you don’t like it…The government is not that sort of swift, efficient, money-making (or losing) machine. There is an entire bureaucracy of millions of civil servants and experts who need to be listened to and consulted. There are numerous parts of the government that do not make money because they aren’t designed to make money. The system does not work to benefit the man in charge, but the people who rely on it. It is impossible to micromanage and cannot be driven by profit. Yet Trump has given no inclination of having any idea of just how complex it is, and just how different from everything he’s ever known. At least if he tries to execute terrible policies he won’t do so effectively.

The Russia connection

Whether or not Russia actually has blackmail material or leverage over Trump is putin_with_flag_of_russia
impossible to say
at this point – but he’s certainly acting like they do. It is an absolutely bizarre sight to see a President-elect taking the side of a foreign autocrat above his own intelligence services, his own party members, and his nation’s allies. Putin seemingly can do no wrong in his eyes.

donald_trump_august_192c_2015_28cropped29There are two potential motives for this, both of which do not bode well. The first is simply that when Trump looks at Putin he sees a man he’d like to be – a powerful, ruthless ruler who lets nothing stand in his way. If this is his model of good governance, it doesn’t exactly suggest that Trump will cope well running a democracy.

The second possibility is that Russia indeed has something on Trump. The ‘golden showers’ story (which the media have consistently politely described as ‘salacious’) isn’t even the worst potential scandal. If Trump survived admitting sexual assault on tape, he can survive anything. But if Russia could potentially demonstrate that Trump’s team coordinated with a foreign power to undermine the elections – that’s treason, and cause for impeachment. What Russia could do with that sort of leverage is terrifying.

Foreign policy

Whether you like it or not, the US is an indispensable part of the world system. Scores of countries rely on it for security, scores more for economic prosperity, and even their adversaries rely on them to at least be fairly predictable in their stances. Again, this is not something that works for profit –  international relations is a complex web of dependencies and alliances.

It is also a web that Trump is swinging a big stick through. The only consistency has been his love affair with Putin. First off, he seems to have nothing but contempt for allies like the NATO states. The fact that alliances like NATO strengthen the US escapes him, the fact that small countries in Europe rely on the US for their security does not bother him. How are countries that the US in turn relies on for cooperation supposed to feel when Trump consistently belittles and attacks them?

Secondly though, Trump also does not understand how vital norms, clarity and tact are in creating a stable world. He doesn’t care of course, because he has always enjoying breaking the rules, but this isn’t New York real estate anymore. Sending a threatening tweet could lead North Korea to panic and launch missiles at Seoul. Failing to make very clear that the US stands behind NATO could lead to the invasion of Estonia. Insulting a foreign leader could sink not only political, but also economic relations.

Interesting times lie ahead – which is probably not a good thing.

Personality

Finally, despite his claim to have “the best temperament”, Trump manifestly does not. His public personal at least meets all 9 symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder to a scarily accurate degree – not exactly a character trait you want a public servant to have. Just about everyone who comes into close contact with him has said that he is obsessed with himself and his image, and compelled to lash out at anything he perceives as an insult. He has no regard for the truth, and seemingly feels no shame or regret when caught in a direct lie. He consistently belittles and humiliates others, especially women, and seems to be motivated by revenge and destroying his enemies. And, of course, if we are to believe what he himself and 11 women have said, he has repeatedly sexually assaulted women.

This is the man who is taking on a job requiring more patience, more self-control, more dignity, and more of a cool head than perhaps any other.

So let’s not despair or panic, give up on the US and the world watching this inauguration. But let’s not kid ourselves into forgetting just how bad this can get.

Trump and the death of truth

Today US intelligence and law enforcement agencies – the CIA, FBI and NSA – released a report stating in no uncertain terms that Russia conducted a campaign devoted to harming Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump win the presidency. The means of the campaign: hacking into Democratic Party servers, cooperating with Wikileaks to release harmful documents at the right times, and producing propaganda, misinformation and fake news painting Clinton in a bad light.

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Note the short fingers

Up until Election Day, the expected goal of the campaign was to undermine the expected Clinton victory and faith in American democracy. Once Trump starting winning, however, the theme of ‘this is not democracy’ was quickly dropped in favour of praising the President-elect. The final conclusion of the report is that it is highly likely that the Russian government will run similar campaigns, after this one’s brilliant success. Looking at how Russia has already managed to muddy the waters over Ukraine – meanwhile destroying the Donbas region – this is a pretty terrifying prospect.

In just a few days, however, this unbelievable series of events – Russia helping elect ‘their man’ president of the United States – will no longer matter.

Trump has managed to break the news cycle – each outrage is only news until the next outrage, and none of it seems to sink in. This report will be news for a few days, until next Monday. On Monday, six of Trump’s cabinet nominees will have confirmation hearings in the Senate, and Trump will (finally) hold a press conference on his numerous business conflicts of interest. This will all be news for a few days, until Trump does something else awful. The media is being force-fed so much news, so much scandal and lies to dig into that they simply cannot deal with it all. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to watch this happen, and not know what to do about it. What’s the point of all the outrage if no one’s listening?

And that’s the thing the media has to deal with – who is listening? The populist right, the supporters of Trump, Wilders, Le Pen, Farage, and all the rest, have tuned out. They don’t trust the mainstream media to provide them with facts, and instead get their (fake) news from Facebook. How are you supposed to debate with someone who legitimately believes Hillary Clinton is a murderer? More worryingly, the ‘anti-imperialist’ left have a similar issue. Distrust of Western governments has led them to throw the baby out with the bathwater, losing all faith in Western institutions and experts as a whole. The prime example of this is Wikileaks, which has somehow gone from exposing US war crimes in Iraq to helping an authoritarian government pick sides in an election. But it’s also something I’ve noted at my (very progressive) university studies. The critical thought that’s so vital to academia can quickly turn into the belief that nothing is really true.

Where does this leave the discussions and arguments that are vital to liberal democracies? If we’re reduced to debating what is true and what isn’t, how do we get to what should be done and what shouldn’t? Just look at the President-elect’s Twitter – a continuous mix of lies, half-truths and unfounded accusations. How do you respond to that if we can’t even agree on what the truth is? In 15 days the President of the United States will be a man who embodies the death of truth. What will this do to American democracy and by extension European democracy?

These aren’t new observations, but it is something I find incredibly frustrating. As someone working with a student organisation dedicated to debate and diplomacy, who intends to work in think tanks or foreign policy, this is not exactly an encouraging picture. All of us need to think about how we talk with people we disagree with, and how to create real debate on the issues that affect us. But as for how to do so in what seems to be (hopefully temporarily) a post-truth era – I’m not yet sure where to start.

Hiatus

Due to the fact that I am currently a member of the board of United Netherlands, unfortunately I will be unable to continue updating this blog during this academic year. United Netherlands is a Dutch student organisation that – among other things – organises and teaches a 10 ECTS course at the Radboud University for around 30 selected students from different academic backgrounds. The course covers international politics, public speaking, diplomacy, and Model United Nations, with participation in international MUN conferences at Oxford and Harvard. Together with two others, I’m responsible for directly organising and teaching the course.

This is an amazing opportunity, and I’m greatly enjoying it so far. However, seeing as I’m also doing a Political Science masters on the side, I will be unable to update this blog, with the exception of some potential random posts. Hopefully I will be able to pick it up again in summer 2017! Until then, thanks for reading!

André

4 reasons to vote yes in the Ukraine referendum

Tomorrow the Netherlands goes to the polls for a referendum on the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement. For international readers, here’s more information on what this referendum is, and who’s called for it. For Dutch readers, who know all that already, I just want to get straight into it, as tempting as it is to write pages on why this sort of referendum is neither effective nor democratic. Here are 4 reasons to vote Yes tomorrow.

Onderaan staat een samenvatting van de belangrijkste punten in het Nederlands! Continue reading

What is going on in Nagorno-Karabakh?

For most people in the West, even the name ‘Nagorno-Karabakh’ sounds stereotypically foreign and remote. For the people of the Caucasus, however, it’s another leftover conflict from the Soviet era that is still taking lives today. Over the weekend 30 people have been killed in fighting between the Azerbaijani army and ethnically Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh forces. While in recent hours the Azerbaijani president has announced a ‘unilateral ceasefire’, this is a conflict that is not going away. So what is it all about? And why are the consequences of a potential war as bad as ever?

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Fear in Europe after Brussels

I have a confession: After hearing of the Brussels attacks this morning, riding my bike past parliament to the The Hague Central and seeing a dozen Royal Marrechaussee armed with automatic weapons, and hearing that Hoofddorp station near Amsterdam had been shut due to an ‘incident’, I got on to a train. A young Middle Eastern man sat next to me, speaking in Arabic on the phone. He was wearing a thick coat, and had a big square bag between his legs. And for a moment I felt a flash of fear. I thought about the possibility of a bomb being in the bag, and images of Brussels ran through my mind. The moment passed very quickly, and I felt stupid and guilty, not believing that I really had been worried for a minute. But I did feel fear, for a brief moment.  Continue reading