By Hillel Frisch, JPost—
President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem is a milestone in the history of the Jewish state. Yet it is also important for the reactions it elicited in the Middle East, which indicate how much the array of forces in the region has radically changed since the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006, and with even greater rapidity after the “Arab Spring.”
That the strongest reactions emanated from Iran and Turkey rather than from Arab states or even segments of Palestinian society reflects the centrality of the Iranian-Arab conflict compared to the former Israeli-Arab divide, the importance of the renewed imperialist ambitions of two former regional imperial powers, Iran and Turkey, at the expense of their Arab neighbors and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The most dramatic headline, “Death to Israel,” was perhaps the most telling. This widely cited headline appeared in al-Mayadin, a Hezbollah media site that like Hezbollah itself is beholden to Iran. The crucial difference between Hezbollah and al-Mayadin is that the former sent its troops for over five years to fight Iran’s battle to save the Assad regime in Syria, while al-Mayadin minces words on Iran’s behalf. Iran’s imperialist reach is reflected in both by its homage to the leading religious and political figures of the Iranian revolution, and above all to its architect, Ruholla Khomeini. These icons are never featured as such by Sunni Arab political sites.
Tellingly, “Death to Israel” was not part of the rhetorical repertoire of any of the sites linked to the Arab states or even to the Palestinian Authority. Nor did any of the Sunni Arab states threaten, as did Turkey, to break diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Instead, the reactions of the Sunni Arab states were tepid and formal. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry noted that Egypt formally opposed the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi even telephoned PA President Mahmoud Abbas to express his opposition. These reactions could hardly be construed as a storm in a teapot.
Egypt’s tepidness was an obvious rejoinder to the Erdogan government’s bluster, given the deep-seated rivalry between the two leaders, their governments and their differing ideological positions, particularly regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and its world view.
Jordan was slightly more forceful. Jordan’s King Abdullah invited Abbas to Jordan, expressed his opposition and allowed government spokesperson Muhammad al-Muamni to state that “the decision encourages the continuation of occupation and harms the feelings of Muslims and Christians alike.” The Jordanian government announcement even went so far to say that the decision effectively ended the role of the US as peacemaker. Again, these were hardly words that threatened to rock the boat either in Jordan’s relations with Israel or with the US.
Even Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who holds office with the blessing of his Iranian mentors and is in alliance with Hezbollah, reacted in a mild and by now trite way. Arab states, he urged, should strengthen the Arab character of Jerusalem. He added that Arab states should pressure the US to rescind its decision.
The greatest surprise, however, was the reaction of the Palestinian silent majority, expressed in al-Quds, by far the most popular site and newspaper in the PA.
Hours before Trump’s declaration, the only coming storm it featured as a headline related to the actual weather. The PA and Hamas might have wanted the man in the street to fight and die for the cause while they keep their ministries and troops from harm’s way, but it was obvious that the Palestinian majority was loath to send their children to fight these warring sides’ battle.
For all the fiery rhetoric from Iran and its proxies, it was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, of all people, that calmed US officials in Washington, DC, and Israeli decision-makers in Jerusalem.
He called on Arab foreign ministers (most of whom loath him and his organization) to immediately recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, signaling that this was to be a war of words rather than missiles and over-the-border attacks.
Somewhere between bluster and inaction lies the response of the PA and Hamas. The PA closed down the school system to encourage Palestinian youth to confront Israeli troops, likely in the hope that some would be killed, as a means of escalating violence even more. Yet, many Palestinians are not fooled. The PA is committing youth to the confrontations, not its own security forces or even officials. Security cooperation between Israel and the PA against Hamas, the common enemy, will continue unabated.
Similarly, Hamas will be glad to see Palestinian youth die facing the Israeli security fence (after the numerous IDF verbal warnings, followed by warning shorts, not to get near the fence). Like the PA, however, it will desist from armed attacks under or above ground.
The reaction of both means that the task of mobilizing Palestinian youth more difficult. Like soldiers, many Palestinian youth will only take the very heavy risks of confronting the IDF and the Israel Police if they feel that those calling for such sacrifice are placing themselves at risk, which the PA and Hamas aren’t. They are right. The PA and Hamas are preserving their troops for the showdown between them rather than wasting them against Israel.
Palestinians lost their faith in the Arab states long ago. Now, they are coming round to the same truth regarding Turkey and Iran. Turkish and Iranian bluster will hardly help the Palestinian youth who are enjoined to do battle for the sake of Muslim Jerusalem in their confrontations with Israeli security forces. Maybe these youths will come around to acknowledge that Israel never threatened Muslim Jerusalem in the first place.
The author is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (www.jiss.org.il).