Unintended Consequences

Trump’s Jerusalem move has brought Palestine back to the Arab and Islamic centre-stage

By Abdel Bari Atwan

With his recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli occupation state, US President Donald Trump has shot his ‘Sunni Arab’ allies in the Arab Gulf – primarily Saudi Arabia – and Egypt in the foot.

He also lit the fuse of an intifada that may last for months or even years to come and will be the prelude to a regional war that reshapes the region’s maps, balance of power and alliances.

Trump’s gamble, which was lauded by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israel lobby in Washington, has marginalized the two most significant US Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and greatly enhanced the standing of two non-Arab states, Iran and Turkey, that stand in opposition to them in the struggle over leadership of the Islamic world and its recognized religious authorities.

When Iranian commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani publicly calls the leaders of Palestinian groups’ armed wings and offers all necessary support for the forces of resistance to Israel, it underlines Iran’s emergence as the strongest ally of the Palestinians and their intifada at a time when most of its Arab rivals in the Gulf are busy normalizing relations with Israel state and colluding with Trump in the Judaization of the Holy City.

Soleimani has never fought a campaign he did not win. He intervened in Iraqi Kurdistan and foiled the referendum there. He fought on the Syrian army’s side to help the state regain control over most of the country. He founded the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Iraq and enabled them to recapture Mosul and most other Iraqi cities. And here he is now, extending his efforts to Israel and occupied Jerusalem, while Arab potentates are busy spending on luxuries and fattening up their idle armies.

Saudi Arabia was wagering on the establishment of a Sunni Arab-Islamic alliance to counter the expansion of Shia Iran’s influence. But the current crisis over Jerusalem has delivered a strong blow to this ambition, highlighting the emergence of an Islamic front that includes the two most powerful regional states – Sunni Turkey and Shia Iran – and joins them with the Arab peoples, Christians included, on a non-sectarian or non-confessional basis to confront Israel and its ally Trump and restore the conflict to its roots as one against a racist and vicious settler-state. That is not a change that Israel and its allies in the ‘Sunni moderate’ alliance had anticipated.

The struggle against the racist Israeli settlement project now tops the Iranian/Turkish and Arab/Muslim order of priorities, as reflected in the Islamic summit being convened this week in Turkey to discuss Jerusalem. It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia dissociated itself in advance from the conference and its proceedings by having its Minister of Islamic Affairs represent it – the lowliest possible level of representation – while Egypt is only sending its foreign minister, signifying both governments’ diminishing role in an issue role of paramount importance in the Islamic world.

In his speech on Monday evening before a huge demonstration in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah was quick to seize on this strategic turnaround, declaring that his party and its allies would now refocus their attention on the Palestinian cause following the victories they achieved elsewhere in the region (an allusion to Syria, Iraq, and Yemen).

Iranian’s most significant strategic achievement in the region has been the establishment of popular and non-official paramilitary organizations in parallel to official armies — such as the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, the PMU in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi Ansarullah in Yemen, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in occupied Palestine – capable of waging guerrilla warfare effectively and decisively, and to supply them with missiles that can achieve a modicum of deterrence against their heavily-armed US-supplied foes.

The Palestinian popular uprising that broke out in Jerusalem last summer and forced Netanyahu to abandon his bid to seal off the al-Aqsa Mosque ended after its immediate demands were achieved. This is because because it was spontaneous, not organized, and did not receive outside support. A new intifada would be different, as it would be sustained by Arab and Islamic popular momentum that does not recognize borders as well as the support of important Islamic organizations and countries.

With his Jerusalem decision, Trump deserves our gratitude for uniting the Islamic world and delivering a lethal blow to sectarian Sunni-Shia sedition. He has isolated his Arab allies who are normalizing relations with Israel and have changed its status to that of an ally and friend. He has stripped them of the leadership of the Islamic world and marginalized their role. And, most importantly, he has placed his Israeli allies in a dangerous place that should concern and worry them.

A strong message to the Arab normalizers who back Trump and are in collusion with his provocative and racist decision was delivered by Palestinians to the Bahraini delegation that was hosted by Israel this week. It was accorded an angry reception by East Jerusalemites and turned away from the al-Aqsa mosque by local guards, and was also barred access to the Gaza Strip by protestors who threatened to hurl shoes at its members.

This sums up the changed mood of much of the Arab public, and is a sign of things to come.