After Jerusalem, the US Can No Longer Pretend to Be an Honest Broker of Peace

Every dark cloud has a silver lining. The torrent of complex problems that Donald Trump has unleashed by his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will plague United States policy and Middle East peace-making for many years. You cannot un-recognize a capital once you have recognized it. Whatever caveats he may offer, Trump has effectively accepted Israel’s annexation of vast swathes of the occupied West Bank into greater Jerusalem, and its declaration of this entire zone as its “eternal undivided capital.”

But in plunging the Middle East into what may be a prolonged crisis, and saddling future generations of American policy-makers with the burden of dealing with the mess he has made, Trump may have inadvertently cleared the air. He may have smashed a rotten status quo of US “peace processing” that has served only to entrench and legitimize Israel’s military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land for a quarter of a century, which has made more difficult a just, lasting peace between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

After Trump, how can the eternally dishonest broker, “Israel’s attorney,” in the words of veteran State Department official Aaron David Miller, even pretend to act as a mediator? Trump has, in effect, adopted wholesale the Israeli position that all of Jerusalem belongs exclusively to Israel, and that all of it—including areas extending far north, south and east of the city—is Israel’s capital, denying the Palestinians any national or political rights there. He has thereby nailed the United States flag to a position that antagonizes virtually every Palestinian, Arab and Muslim, and the overwhelming majority of peoples and governments around the world.

There can be—and there should be—no going back to the old formula in place for decades, whereby the United States colluded privately with Israel and the two powers thereafter imposed their will on the Palestinians. That was never the way to achieve a just and lasting peace; it served only to oblige the weaker party to bow to the will of the stronger, which in turn exacerbated and prolonged the conflict. If this changes, it is indeed a silver lining to what promises to be a debacle for US diplomacy and for the stability of the Middle East.

If, moreover, Trump’s action drives a stake through the heart of the truly dreadful made-in-Israel plan that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is peddling, that would be an entirely good thing. The Kushner plan has been reliably reported to involve a non-contiguous Palestinian “state” in a fraction of the West Bank and Gaza, without its capital in Jerusalem, without real sovereignty, without control over its own borders or its security, and without any right of return for Palestinian refugees. Calling this travesty a Bantustan would be an insult to apartheid South Africa. No Palestinian leader can accept anything like this and retain a shred of self-respect or the support of his or her own people.

Another silver lining is that those Arab monarchs and dictators that have been busy cozying up to Israel, in the hope of allying with it against their bogeyman, Iran, have now been forced to run for cover. There will now be the usual sonorous, meaningless, unanimity from the Arab states and the Arab League in support of the Palestinians, but this masks an important reality: in a part of the world that has more absolute monarchies and jackboot dictatorships than any other, the rulers have once again been obliged to pay attention to the views of the ruled. Oppressed though they may be by these awful regimes, most Arabs are deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians, and whether they are Muslims or Christians, they regard Jerusalem as a sacred trust, and part of their patrimony. No Arab ruler dares to stand against this tide of opinion.

So, in spite of himself, in delivering a blow to international law, to multiple United Nations decisions, and to 70 years of US policy, going back to the partition resolution of November 1947, Trump may have unwittingly shown us a path toward a better way to dealing with the question of Palestine than any that has been on offer for a long time.

It is time to get away from the idea that Israel’s most fervently partisan supporter and supplier of money and arms can be a mediator. The United States is not neutral: it is a party to this conflict, fully on the side of Israel. This, despite the fact that polls consistently show that a majority of Americans want the United States to be neutral and even-handed in its dealings with Israelis and Palestinians, and that nearly half of all Americans, and a majority of Democrats, would go so far as to support sanctions or stronger action against Israel over settlement construction.

Instead of US monopolization of negotiations, a truly impartial international go-between is needed. It is time to get away from the Oslo straitjacket, which was expressly designed by the Israeli government to confine and control the Palestinians, and to allow it to colonize and occupy Palestinian land to their heart’s content.

An entirely new basis for negotiations must be grounded in all UN resolutions, including UNGA 181, which entitled the Palestinians to a state much larger than just the West Bank and Gaza, or than the scraps the Kushner plan envisages for them; and UNGA 194, which promised Palestinian refugees who were expelled during Israel’s establishment return and compensation. Instead of the skewed bases on which all previous negotiations have taken place, there must be a return to bedrock principles of justice and equality for both peoples involved in this conflict.

Donald Trump certainly had no such aim, but perhaps this latest instance of his shooting himself in the foot may help lead the Palestinians and the Arabs out of the wilderness where they have wandered for too long. Perhaps his action will encourage Europeans and other international actors to overcome the resistance of the United States and to shoulder their global responsibilities and begin engaging forcefully with the Middle East. For Trump has shown us that peace in Palestine is far too serious a matter to be left to the antics of the sinister lot of Keystone Cops who are currently in charge in Washington.

Co-posted with The Nation.

About Rashid Khalidi 7 Articles
Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, is the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. He is the author of several journal articles and books, most recently Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.


  1. One of the best articles written along with the comments of Tameem Albarghouti the palestinian poet and going hand in hand

  2. In his speech on Jerusalem Mr. Trump has stipulated that he was not endorsing any borders of Jerusalem. In this article Mr Khalidi concluded that Trump meant all of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.

    • Indeed. It is a shame that pundits stir up violence by pontificating over what was not said. Rather than support Palestinians, Khalidi is selling them out.

  3. The Khazar_Jewish-Zionists_controlled U.S. Government is enemy# 1 of the Palestinian nation. Without its huge endless support of the Khazar Jewish Nazi settlers entity “Israel”, there would be no “Israel”

  4. The United States has not been a broker of peace since Israel was founded in 1948 by a flawed UN resolution that did not consult its original inhabitants or have a basis in Law or Justice. The US has been a protector, armer, funder and nanny for Israel and has placed Israel first, often in conflict with its own interests.
    Palestine has been home for people of the three faiths for centuries. The claim of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of israel for 3000 years is another invention. Jewish tribes lived among other tribes and over the years, people converted and assimilated together. Making an eternal claim of Jerusalem on the basis of King David’s reign for one generation cannot trump hunfpdreds of generations. Jerusalem and indeed all of Palestine belongs to all its people, equally and, as the birthplace of the three great religions, Chirsitianity, Islam and Judaism, it belongs in Trust to the whole world.
    Besides, peace cannot be brokered like a bag of goods between a buyer and a seller.
    To get Peace, we must have Justice.

    • The commission that proposed the partition resolution certainly did consult with the Arab living in British Mandate Palestine. As for a basis in law, the UN makes international law all of the time. As for the US, when it acts contrary to national interest, it is acting according to national values. The US will always support a liberal democracy over a dictatorship.

      King Solomon also ruled from Jerusalem. As for placing Jerusalem in a trust, that is not the will of the Arabs of the Palestinian region.

  5. A short comment/observation:
    In the one but last paragraph it is mentioned that resolution 181 “entitled” the Palestinians to a state ………..
    It is Israel and public opinion in a great part of the world that acted as if resolution 181 provided an entitlement. However 181 was just a proposal, it is not up to the UNGA to divide land and/or to provide a title to land. Especially not when this goes against the wishes of the majority of the original population.
    Resolution 181 asked the Security Council to to take relevant action and look into possible inoplementation, but the SC did not act.

    • True, the UN did not act. One reason was Britain’s refusal to hand anything over to the UN. A second reason the UN could not act was the Arabs starting the Palestinian Civil War immediately following the partition vote.

      • Let’s not argue about who started the war, but that a war broke out is true. And that should have urged the Security Council to act.

  6. This will not end well for Israel in the long run. Peoples around world, including ever increasing numbers of enlightened Jews, especially youth, are seeing the Zionist entity for the racist, fascistic monster it is.

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