08 décembre 2017

"With Jerusalem, Trump goes pyromaniac”

The impact of Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and speed up the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv could be significant, explains Graduate Institute professor Riccardo Bocco in an interview with Le Temps.

Le Temps: How do you assess Donald Trump’s speech?

Riccardo Bocco:
 I only see two possible explanations: incompetence or madness. Beyond its concrete reality, Jerusalem is a symbol that gathers behind it the immensity of the Muslim world. Toying with this symbol is like putting your finger on the button to trigger a nuclear war.

What are Donald Trump’s motives?

The United States has absolutely nothing to gain from this gesture, unless we imagine a kind of "chaos theory" where, notwithstanding the risks involved, the United States was trying to reshape the world, taking advantage of the confusion to establish its domination. But I doubt that: no cabinet would have thought about that in Washington, or would have spent six months working on a coherent plan for the Middle East. Insofar as Donald Trump continues to remove his aides and weaken most areas of the US administration, this seems like a decision he took alone. And even then, it remains difficult to understand. Donald Trump is not a "born again Christian" in thrall to mystical motives, like George W. Bush. There remains the possible influence of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But in my opinion, Trump has shown that he is not a man to be led by anyone, even the husband of his beloved daughter...

What specific risks do you see?

At an Israeli-Palestinian level, this means the end of the so-called ‘peace negotiations’: as a dishonest broker, The US have now lost credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

At the Palestinian level, President Trump’s declaration comes during a process of "reconciliation" between Hamas in Gaza and Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah in the West Bank. The US decision could produce an outward show of unity, but that won’t suffice to quell possible street protests.

The PA could be tempted, at least in theory, by self-dissolution. It runs a state admittedly recognised by the UN as an observer member, but it’s an empty state which is now being deprived of its capital. Israel and the international community would have to face their own responsibilities. Whatever happens, the PA risks severe criticism from various Palestinian elements, it could even be attacked. The situation is boiling over among Israel’s Arabs around the city of Umm al-Fahm (in northern Israel). That may embolden Jewish extremists, who continue to dream of destroying mosques and rebuilding the Temple.

And for the wider region?

From a military viewpoint, Israel has nothing to fear, but American interests worldwide could become targets of ‘terrorist attacks’. Jerusalem’s symbolism has a strong unifying power which - interestingly – touches Arab countries as well as Iran and Turkey. Saudi power, in particular, could be exposed to big risks. If it accepts the American decision, it would expose itself as a target for fundamentalist groups. Trump’s decision is definitely that of a pyromaniac…

An original version of this article appeared in French in Le Temps on 6 December 2017.