Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement Is All About Iran

Wissam Nassar/DPA via ZUMA

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Like me, Marc Lynch is not especially nervous about the reaction to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:

Most likely, the recognition of Jerusalem will have none of the promised benefits for negotiations and relatively few of the threatened costs. This is not because Jerusalem does not matter, but rather because there is no real peace process to disrupt, little meaningful prospect for a two-state solution to squander, and little belief in U.S. neutrality to violate.

….Trump’s Jerusalem gamble is thus less about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace than about whether Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran can be achieved in its absence. Israel’s tacit cooperation with Gulf states against Iran, long kept in the shadows, has increasingly been brought into the open despite the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Jerusalem gambit may well force a public reckoning over this semiprivate alignment.

The major trends in regional politics could well make this gamble pay off. Saudi Arabia and its key partners have made it clear that they view regional confrontation with Iran as their most urgent strategic priority….The key question is whether Arab regimes do anything more to protest the recognition, or return to cooperation with the United States and Israel against Iran once the passions have faded. The Trump administration is probably right that they will do so quickly, barring the emergence of serious, sustained Palestinian mobilization that forces them into a tougher stance.

This is not to say that there won’t be any blowback from Trump’s announcement. There might well be. But I suspect that most Arab states in the Middle East care a lot less about the Palestinian cause than they claim, and are willing to keep the inevitable protests under tight control. They mostly understand three fundamental facts:

  • There is no peace process, and there won’t be one anytime in the near future.
  • Israel is going to continue to steadily take over the territory it wants, no matter what the rest of the world thinks. There is nothing short of war that will stop this, and there is no one with both the strength and inclination to stop them.
  • Israel will allow neither the formation of a Palestinian state nor Palestinian integration into Israel.

Trump is, fundamentally, asking Arab states to accept this privately, if not publicly, in return for a full-court press against Iran. Likewise, the gift of Jerusalem is primarily a gesture to maintain Israel’s confidence in the United States even as Trump cozies up with the Saudi coalition. Given the realities on the ground, I suspect that nearly all parties in the Middle East are willing to make this deal.


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