WHEN Jason Greenblatt, an advisor to President Trump, tweeted yesterday morning that moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was necessary to secure peace in the region, eyebrows were raised.
A couple of hours later, after Israeli armed forces had opened fire on Palestinian protestors, killing dozens and injuring thousands according to Palestinian officials, his words seemed grim and ridiculous in equal measure.
The footage of the latest clashes at the Israeli-Gaza border was extremely distressing: young people slinging stones across the security fence while Israeli military snipers fired on them. The David and Goliath symbolism of it all could not have been more marked, or indeed more ironic. The Israelis say they are protecting their border from extremists.
Tensions have been escalating over many months between the two sides, and were stoked even further when it became clear Mr Trump planned to honour his promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s disputed, multi-faith capital – Palestinians have long claimed East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Mr Trump described the embassy move as “a long time coming”, while the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has called it a “deplorable” measure deliberately designed to undermine peace efforts.
Much of the world – including the UK, the EU and Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Middle East – has consistently condemned Mr Trump’s plan, fearful that it would lead to exactly the sort of violence we saw yesterday, especially as the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel has only added to the tension; for Israelis this marks the foundation of a homeland, for many Palestinians, an end to theirs.
It is unclear why Mr Trump would choose to fan the flames of this particular conflict at a time when the wider situation in the Middle East remains so fragile. Only last week he controversially withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal (citing disputed evidence gathered by the Israelis) while he remains locked in a new cold war with Russia over the conflict in Syria.
The US President has made the call to fully align himself with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than filling the more impartial role of his predecessors, which, it must be said, failed to bring lasting peace to the region. But if yesterday’s terrible scenes are anything to go by, the consequences of this change in diplomacy will only further destabilise an already deteriorating situation.
There remains no easy answer to a conflict that has remained intractable for generations. So far Mr Trump’s bombastic, heavy-handed intervention is only making things worse.