Trump's gambit harmful, but not fatal for Palestinian Jerusalem

Trump's gambit harmful, but not fatal for Palestinian Jerusalem
Trump's move to recognise Jerusalem as Israeli is a provocation signaling even greater conciliation to Zionist expansionism, but the Palestinians and their supporters will not cede it, says Steven Salaita
3 min read
07 Dec, 2017
Palestinians will never cede their aspirations to the benefit of crooks and reactionaries [Getty]

Relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has long been a dream of Israel and its global supporters (few as they are these days).  That dream appears to have now been realized with Donald Trump’s announcement that he will now recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

The move is an obvious provocation and signals even greater conciliation to Israeli expansionism, as difficult as that might be to imagine. The importance of Jerusalem in the Palestinian cultural imagination (Muslim and Christian) cannot be overstated; the city also is revered throughout the broader Islamic world. 

I propose, however, that viewing Jerusalem through the lens of reverence rather than of statecraft can be counterproductive. Furthermore, the embassy move is in itself meaningless vis-à-vis Palestinian aspirations for freedom. 

These points don’t intend to minimize people’s feelings about the city or to wash away the importance of symbolic geographies to political struggle. Rather, I would argue that it’s necessary to extricate polities from mythology, where politicians and pundits like to keep them. We can do so and still honour Jerusalem’s special characteristics. 

Other factors are worth keeping in mind. Liberals like Chuck Schumer, supposedly one of Trump’s opponents, have encouraged the president to make this move.  Satisfying Israeli belligerence is not a partisan issue. 

Nor is that impulse confined to the United States.  As Asad Abukhalil points out, conceptualising Abu Dis as Palestine’s new “Jerusalem” was bandied about in 1995 by Yossi Beilin and Mahmoud Abbas.  Trump has engineered nothing; he simply implemented other people’s visions. 

Moreover, Jerusalem has long been a site of painstaking colonisation.  Three days after occupying East Jerusalem, Israel destroyed the 800-year-old Moroccan Quarter. 

In subsequent years, the Israelis created a new class of Palestinian resident intended to restrict access to the city from the West Bank, supplementing the effort with a ring of settlements around East Jerusalem. Muslim and Christian tourists cannot access the holy sites without Israeli permission. 

Palestinians will never cede their aspirations to the benefit of crooks and reactionaries

Finally, we shouldn’t limit outrage to Trump and Netanyahu.  Arab governments that have at some point collaborated, or currently collaborate, with Israel bear responsibility for this development if only by normalising a status quo always determined to usurp Jerusalem. 

Why is the embassy move in itself meaningless vis-à-vis Palestinian aspirations for freedom? I qualify the claim with “in itself” because Trump’s decision is certainly meaningful and has measurable implications. 

Understood in context of the greater struggle, though, it doesn’t negate the Palestinian desire to maintain Jerusalem as the centerpiece of their liberation. If anything, it intensifies that desire. 

In short, Donald Trump will not liberate Palestine. Neither will the US Congress or the Gulf Cooperation Council (or, for that matter, the Palestinian Authority). In many ways, Jerusalem was already lost before the circus of buffoons now causing so much anxiety came to power. They are the guardians and beneficiaries of worldly injustice, but not its cause. 

What do all the leaders, pundits, diplomats, entrepreneurs, and racketeers with their hands in this ugly business have in common? None of them has the right, or the ability, to remove Jerusalem from Palestine. 

Palestinians will never cede their aspirations to the benefit of crooks and reactionaries.  While billionaires adorned in gaudy regalia cut deals that tighten elite control over global capital, the rest of us must resist with a vision that transcends the expedience of realpolitik. 

Our destinies are not the province of contemptuous men who spend their days trading in holy commodities. This is the actual mandate of Palestine. This is the real power of Jerusalem.

Steven Salaita is an American scholar, author and public speaker. His latest book is Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom.  

Follow him on Twitter:

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.