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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press A girl with “Jerusalem Is for Us” in Arabic painted on her face chants slogans during a sit-in Wednesday at a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon.

Thursday, December 07, 2017 1:00 am

Trump's move stokes Arab anger

But unity, leverage lack among region's war-weary rivals

ZEINA KARAM | Associated Press

Locally

Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, applauded Trump's announcement Wednesday that he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocate a U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“For thousands of years, Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish heritage and life. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital sends a strong message to the world that America stands with our cherished ally,” Banks said in a statement.

– Brian Francisco, The Journal Gazette

BEIRUT – Muslims across the Middle East warned Wednesday of disastrous consequences after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but in a region more divided than ever, many asked what leaders can do beyond the vehement rhetoric.

Arab powerhouses are mired in their own internal troubles, their populations tired of wars, and the days when Arab leaders could challenge the United States in a meaningful way are long gone.

Jerusalem, a cherished and combustible landmark, is one of the very few unifying issues in an Arab world plagued by wars and sectarianism. But even the prospect of Trump recognizing it as Israel's capital became a reason for bickering between the Middle East's Sunni and Shiite powerhouses, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are engaged in a catastrophic proxy war for supremacy in the region.

“If half the funds spent by some rulers in the region to encourage terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and incitement against neighbors was spent on liberating Palestine, we wouldn't be facing today this American egotism,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a tweet Wednesday, clearly directed at Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Trump has destroyed America's credibility as a Mideast peace broker, adding in a televised statement that the U.S. decision “is a declaration of withdrawal from the role it has played in the peace process.”

Egypt, which was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, denounced Trump's decision, describing it in a Foreign Ministry statement as a violation of international resolutions on the city's status. The statement said Egypt is worried about the impact of the U.S. move on the stability of the region and about its “extremely negative” impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose country like Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, said he expressed his concerns to Trump in a phone call Tuesday, saying that ignoring Palestinian, Muslim and Christian rights in Jerusalem would only fuel further extremism.

He spoke at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyeb Erdogan, who has invited leaders of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to an extraordinary meeting to discuss Jerusalem's status next week.

In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags and waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as “our eternal capital” and calling recognition of it as Israel's capital a “red line.”

In Beirut, several hundred Palestinian refugees staged a protest in the narrow streets of the Bourj al-Barajneh camp, some of them chanting “Trump, you are mad.” And in Turkey, hundreds of people took to the streets to stage demonstrations near U.S. diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, declared the Mideast peace process “finished.” The Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, met with European diplomats Wednesday and told them that the expected U.S. shift on Jerusalem “will fuel conflict and increase violence in the entire region.”

Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse that could help the White House push through a Middle East settlement, has voiced strong opposition to Trump's move, saying it would “provoke sentiments of Muslims throughout the world.”

But Trump's move puts the Sunni nation in a bind. The kingdom, particularly its powerful crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, enjoys close relations with Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner – a relationship that the Saudis need and cannot afford to compromise.

For its part, Iran will seize upon Trump's move to show itself the defender of Muslims.

In 1973, Arab oil producers imposed an oil embargo against the United States in retaliation for American military support for Israel, causing soaring gas prices and straining the U.S. economy in a move that demonstrated Saudi Arabia's power and Arab unity at the time.

Such forceful action is all but ruled out nowadays. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have invested in good relations with the United States and are at odds with fellow Arab countries over political and religious differences. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are mired in wars and conflict, and entire cities have been laid to waste.

Sunni-led Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, share with Israel a deep distrust of Shiite power Iran, and their relations with Israel have somewhat thawed.