Column Road Comment

Trump’s diplomatic illiteracy sparks Israeli-Palestinian clashes

Trump has expressed his intention to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Source: Gage Skidmore (via Flickr)

As far as predictions go, there are fewer more accurate than that of the American journalist H. L. Mencken. In a column for the Baltimore Sun, almost one hundred years ago, he wrote that “on some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron”. As we approach a year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the 20/20 clarity of Mencken’s foresight becomes evermore depressing.

Last week saw Trump express his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. This represents a radical shift in America’s Middle-East policy, and once more casts considerable doubt over the president’s diplomatic credentials. When the leader of the free world comes down on one side of such a historically heated and emotionally charged feud, there are real-life consequences.

It appeared that the levels of rage surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian divide were sufficient, and not especially wanting a divisive new policy from the US. We should not be surprised by the scenes that followed; they are all too familiar. Protesters threw rocks at Israeli authorities outside major Palestinian cities, the army responded with volleys of tear-gas grenades and rubber bullets, the streets ablaze and injury figures rising.

Hamas, the terrorist organisation known for their firing of rockets into Israel from the Gaza strip and use of civilians as human shields, seldom require an invitation to commit their acts of political violence; for these militants, Trump’s announcement was as good as one. The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, was not going to let such an opportunity pass him by, he referred to Trump’s decision as “a declaration of war” against the Palestinian people. The Palestinian leaders, in equally inflammatory style, called for three days of rage in protest, labelling Trump’s move the “kiss of death” to negotiations for the goal of a two-state solution in the region.

Speaking of the recent mayhem, an Israeli officer described “probably the most severe [rioting] we’ve had this year”, quite the achievement for the American president who has both undermined the desired outcome of a settlement and brought about even more conflict with one mindless policy objective. Such outright Western arrogance has been condemned by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, a man who in many ways shares Trump’s attitude to subtlety and the truth: he doesn’t care much for them either. Even Johnson, a man whose diplomacy has also been suspect on too many occasions, recognises how unhelpful this move has been.

In deciding to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump has either grossly miscalculated or simply doesn’t care for the repercussions of his crass behaviour. Carelessness or indifference, whatever the case may be, this is only the latest in the growing list of controversies that reinforce the presumption of many that he is not a fit occupier of the Oval Office. I have long ceased to be surprised by the idiocy of the man, and find it difficult to sympathise with the ‘left-behind’, blue-collar American voters whose idea of a protest was to elect a reality TV personality into the presidency. Alas, they evidently aren’t the only ones who will suffer the consequences of ‘Trump first’ policies.

These policies are not ideological; there is no such thing as ‘Trumpism’. On the contrary, they are wildly ill-conceived ideas that may appear attractive to his voter-base, gain him short-term media publicity, and reward him with vast retweets on Twitter. To listen to these pledges, one could believe that the world is Trump’s playground: travel ban here, wall there, global warming not here but over there with the nuclear war, move that capital city over there. It is obvious that Trump enjoys thinking that he is omnipotent, and he is welcome to that; the reality of course is that his consistently infantile behaviour gives truth to David Cameron’s remark that “too many tweets make a twat”.

But still we find ourselves asking the same, exhausted questions regarding Trump. I wonder if he knows what he’s doing all along, whether we are underestimating his intelligence, whether he is characteristically just trying to provoke? Prior to his election, proponents of Trump asked these questions in his defence and it is a damning indictment on the voters that such questions do not automatically render him unfit for the office that he holds. Leaders come and go, some achieve and some fail, but we had become accustomed to leader by liberal, by conservative, by socialist, by technocrat, by patriot; this trend has been replaced, in Trump’s case, with leader by tweeter, by provocateur, by bully, by narcissist, by moron.

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