Upon entering office, Donald Trump frequently complained about “inheriting” wars from his predecessors. Of course this was true. Afghanistan and Iraq were George W. Bush’s wars while Libya, Syria and Yemen were Barack Obama’s wars. If one wants to refer to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, one can say that it was Harry S. Truman’s war, one that every subsequent US leader has inherited.
While Donald Trump was only a child during Nakba, the tragic expulsion of Palestinians from their homes at the hands of the still unrecognised Israel, today’s war in the region is very much his.
Just as George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush had unique wars which both took place in Iraq, so too has Donald Trump lit a fire under Palestine, even according to many pro-Israel voices in the United States, including the highly influential pro-Trump radio host Michael Savage who has scathingly criticised Trump’s move.
Palestine has never had a day of peace since 1947, but the lack of peace has not always necessarily meant the presence of full scale war.
Now though, with several lives already being taken in Gaza and with clashes continuing throughout the occupied territories, it is impossible not to trace the casus belli of the current tensions which appear to be the early stages of the Third Intifada, to Donald Trump’s recent speech in which he recognised Jerusalem/al-Quds as the Israeli capital.
While many in the US are in collective denial about the significance of Trump’s statement, in many ways it is the most Trumpian declaration of war imaginable, because it is a ‘branding war’.
Many are quick to point out that the US recognising Jerusalem/al-Quds as the Israeli capital does not change realities on the ground, has not convinced any other major nation to follow suit, has brought universal condemnation upon the US for toying with a fragile peace process and has not actually moved a single brick and mortar of a single embassy.
While this is true, it is also incredibly disingenuous to say that there have been no tangible results of Trump’s statement. The dead bodies and those of wounded Palestinians are a testament to the fact that Trump’s move was not at all insignificant. It also demonstrates that Trump’s predecessors were in fact wise, to continually suspend the execution of an act of Congress which called for the dangerous move.
According to Donald Trump’s apologists, the US President merely ‘branded’ Jerusalem/al-Quds with ‘brand Israel’, just as Trump branded so many hotels which he neither built nor owned as ‘brand Trump’. But as Trump certainly knows himself–names carry weight. Trump hotels signify something to American consumers, just as al-Quds signifies something to Palestinians.
However, far from something as frivolous as a hotel, for Muslims, al-Quds signifies a holy city from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven after his Night Journey. By branding the city as an Israeli capital, it deprives Palestinians both manifest and spiritual ownership of a place that is at the heart of the political resistance, spiritual purpose and religious identity.
This is not to say that countries like Russia and China want to exclude any group from the city. Russia and China, as neutral superpowers, seek to work within the framework of the UN peace process, in order for Jerusalem/Al-Quds to one day be a city of communal harmony, rather than one of exclusion and division.
It is equally naive to say that because Trump did not use the words “undivided capital” in his announcement, that the insult would not run as deep as if he did. The facts on the streets of Palestine speak for themselves, as virtually every country in the world as well as numerous Muslim and Christian leaders warned that they would.
Donald Trump is notoriously attached to his secular, profiteering brand, as the world knows all too well. How then, can any commentator say with sincerity that Palestinians are supposed to behave placidly when the identity of their state, the land of their ancestors and their two primary religions, Islam and Christianity, are so deeply insulted. Is the United States so lacking in spiritual and historical awareness that much of the population can relate to passions aroused over a business identity, but feel no empathy with those whose personal, religious and national identity has been stripped away?
Indeed, America is such a land of brand identity that when ABC news falsely reported that Trump’s campaign team rather than his transition team spoke with the Russian Ambassador in Washington, the biggest catalogue of profiteering brands in the world, the New York Stock Exchange, temporarily experienced a nosedive.
The pen can indeed be mightier than the sword and in Donald Trump’s case, his pen stroke has resulted in the firing of weapons and the taking of lives in occupied Palestine.
No one can exculpate Trump from the responsibility he bears for this disastrous decision, even though some commentators on both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide are trying to do so.
The causal relationship between Trump’s proclamation and the bloodshed in the streets of Palestine today, is beyond question. As someone who built much of his career selling a name rather than actions, he of all people should have been aware of how seriously the entire world would take his decision to defy international law and unilaterally rename Jerusalem/al-Quds as the capital of a state he likes, while plunging a state whose existence is suppressed, into a state of war.
George W. Bush declared war on Afghanistan less than nine months into his presidency. Trump has declared war on Palestine less than eleven months into his.
Trump’s war is not being fought by American soldiers, but is being outsourced to regional players. Nevertheless, the war is very much his. It is now all but undeniable that one cannot be a US President without starting one’s own war.