Israel’s man in Washington

The Donald Trump administration has used all possible means to help Israel secure greater acceptability in international politics and intensify its oppression of the Palestinian people

October 10, 2020 by Abdul Rahman
US president Donald Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: The White House

It’s election season in the United States and one aspect of president Donald Trump’s record that is not up for debate is his role in sustaining and strengthening the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Trump has left no stone unturned to win the support of pro-Zionist groups in his country by subordinating US foreign policy interests to that of Israel.

Trump’s use of US power, including its military and financial resources, has helped Israel achieve some of its long-term diplomatic and strategic goals. This includes recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the “normalization” of the relationship with Arab countries. The Trump administration has not only disregarded international institutions and laws, but also long-held US positions on Palestine, to aid the apartheid policies of the Zionist state of Israel.

Shifting the capital  

Going against all international resolutions, the Trump administration announced on December 6, 2017, its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018, despite all the objections raised by Palestinians and the international community, and massive protests. However, recognizing the futility of its unilateral move, the Trump administration has since been using US diplomatic and financial resources to convince and pressurize other countries to follow its example.  

So far, it has only got one country, Guatemala, to officially shift its capital to Jerusalem. The right-wing and pro-US administration of president Jimmy Morales in Guatemala was happy to follow the American model. The Trump administration has similarly tried to persuade the leadership in Serbia and Kosovo to be friendly with Israel in return for American support, both financial and political. In September this year, Serbia and Kosovo announced plans to shift their embassies to Jerusalem. However, it is noteworthy that the leadership of both countries is facing prosecution for human rights violations and war crimes committed during the Kosovo war in the 1990s.

In fact, it is only right-wing governments that have agreed to open or move their embassies to Jerusalem, that too without giving firm commitments. The financial and political vulnerabilities of the ruling class in these countries have resulted in them toeing the line delineated by the imperialist US on behalf of its friend and ally, Israel.  

A classic example of how those vulnerabilities operate can be found in Paraguay. In May 2018, Paraguay’s outgoing president Horacio Cartes announced the decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem, despite objections raised by his successor and president elect Mario Abdo Benitz. Within three months in office, Benitz reversed the decision and moved the Paraguayan embassy back to Tel Aviv, braving objections by Israel and the US.

The “normalization” deals

The Trump administration has been trying to end Israel’s formal isolation in the Arab world and the extended neighborhood, using its conventional strong presence in the region. The signing of the so-called Abraham accords between the UAE, Bahrain, and the US on September 15 in Washington DC was a large propaganda event, celebrated as Trump’s biggest diplomatic achievement in the Middle East. 

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo visited other Arab countries to persuade them to follow the example of UAE and Bahrain. However, all of these countries, including Qatar, Kuwait and Sudan, refused to openly go with Israel despite the strategic and financial help offered to them. Even Oman, which has one of the most explicit relationships with Israel, has not yet recognized it officially.

The Trump administration has also tried to rope in its long-term ally Pakistan, which has been heavily reliant on US financial aid for long. Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan has, however, gone on record to deny speculations about him following in UAE and Bahrain’s footsteps. He has claimed that Pakistan will not “normalize” its relations with Israel “until Palestinians get their rights, which should be in line with the two-state solution.”

In late September, the head of the new transitional government in Sudan, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, confirmed that there were official talks between the US and Sudan under UAE mediation in Abu Dhabi, in which the US had asked Sudan to normalize its ties with Israel in return for handsome financial support. However, the US refusal to remove Sudan from its “States Sponsoring Terror” list and concerns among the civilian sections of the present transitional government about the possibility of popular unrest prevented Sudan from going ahead and normalizing its relations with Israel. 

Of the 22 Arab countries, only two – Egypt and Jordan – had recognized Israel before August this year, and had established diplomatic relationships with it. These relationships were often categorized as a “cold peace” in the absence of any real engagement apart from formal recognition. The Trump administration has tried to exploit the long-term anti-Iran outlook held by the Gulf monarchies, and created the specter of an Iranian threat to push them into coming closer to Israel as a logical step against Iran.  

Israel considers Iran its primary enemy due to the latter’s rising regional profile and its unwavering commitment to the Palestinian cause. The US’ unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 was heavily influenced by Israel’s long standing objections to the deal.

“International laws and institutions are biased”

The Trump administration has not only used its diplomatic, military, and financial might to support Israel win friends and allies. It has also gone overboard to denounce all international laws and institutions trying to preserve the basic human rights of Palestinians. He has called these institutions biased, and in some cases withdrawn from them altogether.

Trump recognized the Israeli annexation of Syrian Golan Heights in defiance of UN Security Council resolution 497, which was passed unanimously in 1987. Disregarding global opinion, Pompeo said in November 2018 that the civilian Israeli settlements inside the occupied Palestinian territories are not against international law. The US under Trump has stopped issuing even those formal objections to new settlement proposals, characteristic of previous administrations.

Alleging anti-Israel bias, Trump withdrew from the United Nations Human Right Commission in June 2018 after it criticized Israeli atrocities inside the occupied territories. The US withdrew from UNESCO in January 2019. Trump also forced the Palestinian Liberation Organization to shut its office in Washington in September 2018.

Last but not the least, Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”, or the Middle East peace plan, is nothing but an expression of the Israeli version of a two-state solution, which goes against all the UN resolutions voted for by the US. It legitimizes the illegal Zionist occupation of the Palestinians by asking them to accept a solution without a refugees’ right to return, without Jerusalem, and to live inside a Bantustan, which is surrounded by Israel on all sides.

While such moves have not received adequate criticism from Trump’s presidential rival Joe Biden, the Zionist administration will certainly hope for a new Trump administration after the November elections.