Nothing that happened in the Middle East yesterday was unexpected or surprising but both moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the massive uprising in the Gaza Strip could have been avoided and did not need to happen. The third major event, the election results in the presidential election in Iraq, was somewhat of a surprise, certainly the size of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr victory. What it portends for Iraq’s future role in the region now to be led by the rabble-rousing cleric, turned populist remains to be seen. Having been a radical opponent of the U.S. in Iraq, it is not clear where or how he will move forward whether toward extremist Islamists, anti-West Iranians, or a more democratic anti-corruption sectarianism.
In Gaza the tragic escalation of violence after six weeks of more minor confrontations should never have been permitted to occur. While Israeli soldiers did the shooting, it was mainly radical extremists, clerics, and terrorists in Gaza who agitated the mob attack on the border fences. Everyone predicted that there would be high casualties, but neither side did enough to prevent them. The Israelis are leaders in mob control, prevention and restraint. It is hard to comprehend that their sophisticated military could not have devised a better tactic to control the angry crowds. At the same time, the Hamas leaders delivered a radical message of martyrdom to galvanize a population which Hamas has used for years for its cause and then blamed the Israelis for their suffering people.
Meanwhile, forty miles away in Jerusalem, the U.S. Embassy was officially opened by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin accompanied by, among others, Ivanka and Jared Kushner. Before a delegation of 800 guests including a large delegation of Republican Members of Congress, the U.S. finally moved its Embassy to the capital.
As has been widely reported in the media the opening of the U.S. Embassy yesterday in Jerusalem was a matter long overdue. Presidents for decades have campaigned on the issue and pledged that they would make the move which Donald Trump accomplished.
As is the case with so much in politics, timing is everything. The storm that has exploded in the American media, in Israel, in Arab circles and around the world was not surprising; especially because it was being juxtaposed to the loss of lives in Gaza to which implementing this decision at this time contributed to at least in part.
For the President Trump and the American people how these events—Iraq, Gaza, and Jerusalem—influence the continuing conflicts in the region is strategically and globally important, but will not affect American citizens. For the Arabs and Jews in Israel and the Arabs in Gaza and on the West Bank this has direct implications for human lives.
Nothing that happened yesterday brings anyone in the region closer to peace or to where one can begin to see a resolution to the conflict. Jared Kushner can allude to peace in his remarks at the Embassy, but ultimately this was a political act with great meaning for Israel. It may have drawn Trump and Netanyahu even closer, but America’s place on the global stage gained little. Israel actually may have lost much good will and support throughout the world.