Politicians and commentators in the Arab world voiced dismay on Wednesday night in response to Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to move the American Embassy, with a prominent Jordanian figure proclaiming, “Peace is dead.”
Abdul-Hadi Majali, former speaker of the Jordanian Parliament, told Al Jazeera, “The Jordanian people are as angry as the Palestinian people. Tonight, Trump killed international legitimacy. For many years it was dying, now it is total death. We had been hoping there would be peace but now the peace is dead.”
“The time has come to say no to the US,” he added. “Geography, history and religion are with us. What we are demanding is international legitimacy, but Israel is behaving recklessly and is supported by Trump.”
The foreign minister of Turkey, which threatened to sever relations with Israel if Trump went ahead, reacted swiftly, tweeting it was “irresponsible” and that the move violated international law.
Trump’s decision is expected to resonate strongly among the populace of many Arab countries, given their continued identification with the Palestinian cause. But despite the scheduling of an emergency session of the Arab League for Saturday, governmental actions are unlikely to reflect the public’s anger. “So far, Arab governments are busy with their own internal affairs,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University in Gaza. “The Gulf countries are preoccupied with the war in Yemen and with containing the Iranian/Shi’ite threat, so we probably won’t hear a thing from them.”
At the street level, however, Abusada predicted mass protests and demonstrations in Amman, Cairo, Tunis, Khartoum and other Arab capitals.
“I don’t think we will see protests that destabilize the regimes, but they will reflect defiance against the American move,” he said.
Abusada said Trump will be seen as having taken an anti-Muslim step that will have an impact on al-Aksa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. “It touches the feeling of Muslims. Trump is not recognizing west Jerusalem as the capital, he’s recognizing Jerusalem without differentiating between east and west. In a way, it will be seen as recognizing the occupation of al-Aksa.”
However, Abusada said he did not expect emotions to run as high as when the police installed metal detectors at entrances to the site last summer, because it does not involve the same sense of “physical intrusion.”
Public opinion in Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority and is the custodian of al-Aksa, is expected to be strong in reaction. The Jordan Times wrote in its editorial Wednesday that Trump was harming moderates in the region. “The current administration is ignoring US history as a peace broker, as a supporter of forces of moderation and the position of its friends and allies in the region at this critical time.”
Egyptian writer Emile Amin, in an article in the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat, wrote that Trump was fueling extremism in the Arab world. “The Arabs have no more substantial cause than the Palestinian cause, caught between pain and hope over seven decades. Trump’s decision is a big change from the international consensus since before 70 years. Now the efforts of the lost peace between Palestinians and Israelis have reached a dead end. It is over forever. Even if Trump looks at his decision as a small symbolic step, it bears in it dramatic painful meanings which offer legitimation to the occupation.”
Amin suggested that Trump was “pushing the region into a whirlwind of doctrinal hostility. It is an absolute conflict without any compromise. He is triggering a new wave of violence and counter-violence in a volatile region. Most jihadists believe that only through jihad can they achieve their goals,” he continued. “Trump is inflaming the soul of jihadists to continue their terror.”
Shibley Telhami, a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, also said extremists would be boosted by Trump’s move. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Telhami said Trump “lives in another world. Tonight he offers a gift to all extremists. He talks of making peace but his decisions are the death of peace.”
“He gave no consideration to Arab and Muslim leaders who asked him to change the decision,” Telhami said.