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The Jerusalem Decision: From Creative Chaos to Effective Turmoil

Dr Can Erimtan

21st Century Wire

Did Donald J. Trump have any idea about the impact his words would have across the world?!? Did he have any idea that the whole wide world, including the United Nations, would turn against him?

On Wednesday, 6 December 2017, in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room the President of the United States proceeded to make history, or, proceeded to leave his personal mark on the flow of world events as his words set a whole chain of global events in motion:

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

In his preamble to this potentially explosive and arguably rather disconcerting statement, Trump explained that “[i]n 1995, [under Bill Clinton’s watch, that is] Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize that that city — and so importantly — is Israel’s capital. This act passed Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority and was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago.” In this way, the 45th U.S. President showed himself to have been cut from a completely different cloth indeed, as he uttered words that neither Bill Clinton, nor George W. Bush or, more importantly perhaps, Barack Obama had dared speak.

Yes, Trump openly came out and made plain the deep love that dare not speak its name – in spite of the vehemently pro-Israel stance taken by the U.S. ever since the time of President Eisenhower (1953-61) and particularly, ever since the Six Day War (5-10 June 1967), in spite of the ceaseless activities of AIPAC and J Street, no previous incumbent had dared bestow a bona fide U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as a physical token of the deep and ardent bonds between the New World and the Promised Land. Only, Donald J. Trump had the gall to “deliver,” doing what Clinton had promised yet none of his successors had been able to realise . . . until now, that is.

In true Aristotelian fashion Trump took the potentiality that was Jerusalem (known as Al Quds or the Sacred City in the Muslim world) and turned it into an actuality by means of pledging full ambassadorial honours for the ancient city. Following these presidential words, outspoken Israeli voices did not take long to heap praise on the White House. Mark Regev, the erstwhile spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem (2004-7) and frequent Israeli apologist appearing on various mainstream media, and currently even active as Israeli Ambassador in London (since 2015) blurted out that he “think[s] this was a just move and a good move for peace.”

His boss, Bibi or Benjamin Netanyahu (fourth premiership, 2015–present) was equally forthcoming, talking to the press on the same day the U.S. President made his performance in the Diplomatic Reception Room: “Thank you President Trump for today’s historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful.“ The PM in the next instance also echoed his ambassador’s words, declaring that “[t]here is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The idea that Jerusalem should be at the heart of the Jewish people’s  land and nation namely has its roots in the Bible, in 2 Chronicles 6:5-6, to be precise: “Since the day I brought my people out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, nor have I chosen anyone to be ruler over my people Israel. But now I have chosen Jerusalem for my Name to be there, and I have chosen David to rule my people Israel,” as worded in the New International Version. And Bibi knows that too.

Bibi even took his words of praise abroad. First to Paris, where he met with President Emmanuel Macron, who had urged his U.S. counterpart to preserve the city’s status quo prior to Trump’s Diplomatic Reception Room performance (10 December 2017). Bibi disagreed volubly with the Frenchman, characterising as “absurd” anyone not willing to recognise the “millennial connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.” Next, even proceeding to refer to God’s word that had elevated Jerusalem to its lofty position as site for his temple: “[y]ou can read it in a very fine book – it’s called the Bible.” The following day he went to Brussels, where he attended a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (11 December 2017). The Israeli PM told the gathered EU FM as well as the assembled press corps that Trump’s Jerusalem declaration “makes peace possible because recognizing reality is the substance of peace, the foundation of peace.”

The Invention of the Jewish People and the Position of Jerusalem in Islam

The state of Israel, as a Jewish nation state implanted on Middle Eastern soil in 1948, employs nationalist myth and religious tradition as credible arguments justifying its mere existence. The Israeli journalist and author Daniel Gavron, for example, states that “most Israelis [regard it as] axiomatic that the celebrations for the 3,000th anniversary of the conquest of Jerusalem by King David [in 1995] mark[ed] a real and tangible event,” even though he himself doubts its authenticity. In other words, the Jewish people, as a shorthand for the Israeli citzenry, have apparently already been following the political and ideological leanings currently exhorted by Bibi for quite a while. But, as I explained at length some time ago, the mere mention of the term ‘nation’ or even just ‘people’ is a problematic issue in its own right – the point that I am trying to get across is that ‘nations’ or ‘people’ cannot be perceived as ‘natural’ or even ‘organic’ phenomena, but rather as contrived and constructed social units consisting of individuals who willingly become part of a larger ‘artificial’ whole through the manipulation and management of larger forces and structures – leaders of men and their organisations. It has been nearly ten years now that the historian Schlomo Sand published his groundbreaking text The Invention of the Jewish People, which attempted to popularise the theoretical constructs of writers and thinkers like Benedict Anderson and Ernst Gellner, amongst others, but, as seems blatantly apparent from looking at Bibi’s recent proclamations, his message has clearly failed to penetrate the academic bubble, in spite of having topped Israeli bestseller list “for nineteen weeks.”

With regard to the city of Jerusalem, on the other hand, archeological evidence appears to prove conclusivedly that the “site has been continuously occupied for some 5,000 years,” signalling the urban centre’s pre-Jewish roots. But the notion that King David conquered the place to establish the one true god’s temple seems rather shaky. Gavron explains that the “biblical account of the capture of the city is the only one we have, and in the opinion of most modern scholars, the Bible is not an entirely reliable historical document.” Still, archeological excavations carried out in the summer of 1993 appear to have produced evidence that a certain David indeed founded a dynastic live in the 10th century BCE – namely, a small “triangular piece of basalt rock . . . subsequently identified as part of a victory pillar erected by the king of Syria and later smashed by an Israelite ruler” carrying an Aramaic inscription talking about a “Beit David (‘House’ or ‘Dynasty of David’).”

But the Jewish “conquest” of Jerusalem did not mark the end of the city’s story of military takeover and/or occupation: remaining in ancient times, the Assyrian King Sennacherib laid siege to the city in the year 701 BCE, whereas the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar captured the city in the seventh year of his reign (598 BCE), but of greater importance is the sack and destruction of the city and its temple at the hands of Titus, son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian (70 CE), in response to the Jews’ Great Revolt against Rome that had sprung up in 66 CE. The ultimate outcome of Rome’s harsh response was the ‘Diaspora,’ as explained by the American rabbi, lecturer, and author Joseph Telushkin, who estimates that “as many as one million Jews died” as a result, while carrying in its wake the “almost two-thousand-year span of Jewish homelessness and exile.” With the majority of Jews apparently dispersed from the land and city, Jerusalem was eventually conquered by the Caliph Umar (reign 634-44) in the year 638, an event which seems to have taken place following a “peaceful siege, no blood was shed,” in the words of Zia H Shah, a New York-based physician and the Chief Editor of the Muslim Times. The addition of Jerusalem to the Dar al-Islam (or, the abode of Islam) was important. Though the city’s name does not appear specifically in the Quran (containing only a reference to “al-Masjid al- Aqsa” or the ‘Furthest Mosque,’ 17:1), it is the locus of the Prophet’s miraculous Night Journey (or Mi’raj). The story, as related in various prophetic traditions (or hadith), tells how the figure of the Prophet travelled from  Makkah to the Furthest Mosque (in Jerusalem), from whence he ascended Heaven, so that Allah might “show him of Our signs.”

As a result, the Masjid al- Aqsa, arguably built by the Caliph Umar though no historical records exist to this effect, is regarded as the third most sacred mosque in Islam, following the Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah, and Al Masjid An-Nabawi in Madinah.

A Pseudo-Ottoman Gambit: Diverting Attention for a Purpose

As a result, Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Reception Room stunt far supersedes the thorny Palestinian issue, the life-and-death matter of peace in the Middle East, or even the real estate division between East and West Jerusalem. The English-language pan-Arab television channel Al Jazeera English matter-of-factly point out on its website that “[v]iolence, protests and arrests have followed US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

All across the globe Muslims have taken to the street to voice their disapproval of Trump’s latest attempt to act like a real president, a president unlike any of his predecessors: “[r]allies against Trump’s decision also took place in the Indian city of Mumbai, the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the Japanese capital, Tokyo.” But also in Turkey – where President Recept Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez)  has been at pains for years to appear as a rightful heir to the Ottoman sultans of old – after all, Sultan Selim I (1512-20) took hold of the city of Jerusalem in 1517, remaining part of the Ottoman fold till the onset of the British Mandate (1917-48). On Thursday and Friday, (7-8 December 2017), ‘spontaneous’ meetings took place throughout the whole of the country, from Istanbul over Bursa, Ankara, and Mersin, to Hatay, Gaziantep, Tatvan, Adana, Van, and Kahramanmaraş. More importantly, the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held a meeting in Istanbul on 13 December 2017, and the Prez employed this platform to portray himself as the ultimate champion of Islam, defying not just the United States of America and Israel, but also the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the nominal Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

As I have written quite some time ago, the Prez is more than determined to challenge his erstwhile friend and ally King Salman and see himself as the rightful Calip of the world of Islam, in true pseudo-Ottoman fashion.

The OIC meeting dutifully released its “Istanbul Declaration on ‘Freedom for Al Quds'”:

“[a]ppreciating the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish people for hosting the Extraordinary Islamic Summit regarding this important cause of Ummah, especially the call for this Extraordinary Summit made by His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (image, left), President of the Republic of Turkey . . . We reject and condemn the US Administration’s unlawful statement regarding the status of Al Quds . . . Just like the fact that Israel’s decision to annex Al Quds and its actions and practices therewith are never accepted, we declare that this statement is identically null and void from the point of view of conscience, justice and history. We invite all members of the UN, the EU and the international community to remain committed to the status of Al Quds and all related UN Resolutions.”

Rather than accomplishing anything much at all, the extraordinary OIC meeting primarily served to heighten Tayyip  Erdoğan’s prestige, at home as well as abroad. As such, a cynic would say that Trump’s timing was impeccable, as 17/25 December marks the anniversary of the scandal variously known as #AKPgate that erupted in 2013, and that presently was very much on people’s minds in Turkey given that the Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab (or Rıza Sarraf, in Turkish) was appearing in court in New York. The court case investigates breaches of the sanctions placed upon Iran and many Turks eagerly followed the proceedings on Twitter. One Istanbul-based writer Kareem Shaheen described the accusations as follows: “[i]n a case that has strained relations between Turkey and the US, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, described a sprawling money laundering network that allowed Iran access to international markets from 2010 to 2015 in violation of sanctions over its nuclear programme. He told jurors in New York on Thursday [30 November 2017] that [Tayyip] Erdoğan, who was prime minister of Turkey at the time, had personally authorised a transaction on behalf of Iran. Zarrab said he had [also] bribed the then Turkish economy minister Zafer Çağlayan and the former head of the state-owned Halkbank.”

As a result, given that the Zarrab case all but exacerbated the dire Turco-American relationship, Trump’s Jerusalem declaration must have come as a welcome bolt from the blue for Erdogan. The decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital finally absolved the Erdogan from any attempts to salvage the cross-Atlantic relationship, and instead emboldened him to announce publicly that the Republic of Turkey is now the rightful heir to the Ottoman Empire and the only hope left for Muslims across the world, Muslims that have been victimised by years and years of oppressive U.S. foreign policy. And, putting a cherry on top of the proverbial cake of discontent, Erdoğan announced on Thursday, 17 December 2017, that he would establish a Turkish Embassy in Jerusalem, representing Ankara in Palestine, to be clear. Speaking to an audience of faithful followers in the city of Karaman, the Prez declared “God willing, the day is close when officially, with God’s permission, we will open our embassy there,” in Jerusalem.

All the while, the Palestinian people continue to suffer and Israel employs any and every pretext available to stage military assaults on the Gaza strip and crack down on Palestinian protesters…

But, Trump has done his deed, leaving his indelible mark on the Middle East, while the Prez, in turn, can now rightfully claim that he alone is able to represent the Muslim world on the international arena.

21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans. the greater Middle East, and the world beyond.. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in the English language Turkish press, culminating in him becoming the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @TheErimtanAngle. Read Can’s archive here.

READ MORE PALESTINE NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Palestine Files




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