Trump’s decisions are changing the political landscape | Michael Jansen - GulfToday

Trump’s decisions are changing the political landscape

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Donald Trump’s presidency has been disastrous for this region. He has taken three ignorant, snap decisions which have had terrible short-term consequences and are in the process of changing the political landscape for decades to come. All three decisions were meant to serve Trump’s political ambitions rather than the interests of the US. All three are deeply destabilising.

The first was Trump’s Dec.6, 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his related order to shift the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These acts violated the United Nation’s Partition resolution of November 1947 which declared that Jerusalem, claimed by both Palestinians and Zionist Jews as their capital, should be a corpus separatum, an entity independent of the two proposed states. Although Israel never adhered to the terms of this resolution and in 1948 and 1967 seized Jerusalem as well as territory allocated for the Palestinian Arab state, the international community, by and large, took the view that Jerusalem, holy to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, should not “belong” to either side. For 70 years this was global policy. Jerusalem was not formally recognised as Israel’s capital, although Israel conquered, annexed, expanded the city’s municipal boundaries and planted tens of thousands of Israelis there in violation of international law.

Until Trump took this decision, all 88 foreign embassies in Israel were based in Tel Aviv. Since he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, Guatemala, a close US ally, followed suit. Trump admitted that by overturning seven decades of US policy, he had taken Jerusalem off the list of core issues to be decided by Palestinians and Israelis in negotiations to reach a peace deal. There have been no meetings of negotiation since Trump’s surprise decree, the Palestinian Authority has cut relations with Washington and Trump has retaliated by cancelling all US financial assistance to the Palestinians.

Although his decision on Jerusalem has had destabilising consequences for this region, he does not care. He has honoured a promise made to his domestic Zionist political and financial supporters who are essential for his campaign for re-election in 2020, which he launched as soon as he moved into the White House.

The second was Trump’s May 8, 2018 decision to withdraw the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) providing for dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities in exchange for lifting sanctions. The important word in the title of this agreement is “joint” as it had been signed in mid-2015 by France, Britain, China, Russia, Germany and Iran and endorsed by a UN Security Council resolution. By pulling out and re-imposing sanctions, Trump violated both the terms of the deal and the Council resolution. He was initially restrained by his more sane advisers against taking this step, but once anti-Iran hawk John Bolton entered Trump’s entourage he pulled out of the JCPOA.

The JCPOA, negotiated over several years, effectively prevented Iran from developing and manufacturing nuclear weapons. Although Tehran argues it has no intention of doing this, the JCPOA provided stabilising assurances to the countries of this region and the international community. By stepping up sanctions since May this year in his effort to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran, Trump has exacerbated his destabilising pull-out from the JCPOA. Attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and Saudi oil facilities, and the detention of the British-flagged tanker by Iran have deepened uncertainty and risk conflagration.

Trump took the decision to leave the JCPOA to honour a pledge made to his electoral “base” during the 2016 presidential campaign and to curry favour with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who urged him to take this step and to clamp fresh, punitive sanctions on Iran. This promise to his “base,” about 33 per cent of US voters, did not really matter for the majority of its members, who do not know where Iran is located on the world map and have no great interest in US policy toward Iran. It would not have mattered to his “base” if he did not withdraw from the JCPOA.

Trump’s third terrible decision is, of course, giving Turkey a green light to invade north-eastern Syria. This wrong-headed instant decision taken after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already had dire consequences for the 700,000 residents and the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced living in the wide band of territory he intends to conquer and occupy. The Syrian Kurds, who lost 11,000 fighters in the US-supported campaign to defeat Daesh (as compared to 10 US military fatalities), have been betrayed. Other US allies in the region are now questioning Washington’s commitments to them and the international community is concerned about Trump’s fickle approach to policy-making.

The war in Syria is entering a new phase. If Syria is to survive, Turkey must be stopped and forced to withdraw speedily from that country’s territory. This must be done before Erdogan implements his plan to install a surrogate regime and deport thousands of Syrian refugees living in Turkey into its “safe zone” while expelling the rightful inhabitants — Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians and Arabs — from north-eastern Syria. If he gets away with implementing the initial stages of his “peace” operation with tanks and troops, Erdogan intends to seize all Syrian territory currently held by the Kurds in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces, 25 per cent of the country. Turkey would never withdraw once Erdogan achieves his grand objective, creating another major area of alien occupation in the Arab world.

Trump also took his decision on north-east Syria to appeal to his “base,” which is likely to be more impressed by his promise to repatriate US troops than his withdrawal from the JCPOA. Ironically, while Trump has given the impression that US troops are pulling out of Syria, they are still there. They simply pulled back from the area currently under attack by Turkey. Ironically, having promised his constituents he will “bring home” US troops deployed in this region, he has authorised the dispatch of 3,000 to Saudi Arabia. Of course, Riyadh is paying. The Kurds cannot pay.