It’s Hanukkah next week, and President Donald J Trump has decided to give the state of Israel a big present. He will today recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and it is understood that America will shortly move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.
This is something that Israeli diplomats have long hoped for but did not think possible before President Trump entered the White House this year. His kindness will go down very well with most Israelis and supporters of Israel. However, the Arab world sees it as a deep affront.
Jared Kushner, the president’s 36 year old son-in-law, himself an Orthodox Jew, has been handling Middle Eastern talks for his wife’s father’s administration. Last week, in a Q and A session about the peace process with the Saban Forum, he stressed how proud he was that his team has been able to listen to Arab voices and take their concerns on board.
Clearly, however, they haven’t been too swayed by Arab opinion. The move to make Jerusalem officially Israel’s capital in the eyes of America seems almost perfectly designed to arouse Muslim enmity. Hamas, the militant Islamist group, has called for a ‘day of rage’ in response to the move. Saudi Arabia, despite its recent rapprochement with Tel Aviv, has called it a ‘flagrant provocation’. Jordan’s King Abdullah said it would undermine the peace process, while Egypt and others have urged President Trump not to complicate the situation.
But Team Trump, driven by Kushner, has pressed on. It has called the move to recognise Jerusalem as a ‘recognition of reality’ — and in a sense it is. But it will be seen in many quarters as an incendiary act, again because in a sense it is.
It’s further proof that the Trump administration, for good or ill, is deadly serious about confronting the Muslim world. How that turns out we’ll have to wait and see.