Israel Palestinians

Palestinian protesters burn a picture of President Trump in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday.

The president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is facing objections by friends and foes alike, except of course Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Being such a historically thorny and sensitive subject, there are many arguments for and against this decision.

Many argue it reduces our credibility as a peace broker in the Middle East and it angers the Palestinians along with a large portion of the Muslim world. It will also cause more chaos and instability in the Middle East. It could increase the influence of Russia and help Iran, whose leaders for years have banked on supporting the Palestinian cause expecting payoff as they strive for leadership in the region.

Historically, the current situation in the Middle East parallels closely the post 1967 Arab-Israeli war. At that time, the Arab countries were a defeated people, discouraged and dejected. The years that followed gave rise to the likes of Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Anwar Sadat and later the overthrow of the shah of Iran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the start of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some leaders like Sadat of Egypt and Syria’s Assad first waged war against Israel in 1973. Despite their losses, both leaders were regarded as heroes. Later Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan made peace with Israel. Others like Assad, Ghaddafi and Saddam Hussein talked tough about Israel mostly to appease the masses, but there was a semblance of a near detente among the old warriors.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States changed many things. Post 9/11, Saddam Hussein was driven out and Syria continues to suffer in a bloody civil war under the son of Assad’s son, Bashar Assad. Iran is trying to keep a restless population docile and rebuild its economy while under intense pressure from the U.S. and Israel along with Saudi Arabia. Egypt is in chaos, and the Saudi’s are throwing their money in every direction to preserve their own leadership. So, the extremists in Israel feel there could not be a better time to push for what they consider to be a godly right; and that is logical, though not without long-term risk. Would there be protest? Would there be special sessions of the U.N. General Assembly to condemn the action of the U.S.? Of course, but such actions are not new and have been seen time and again. Few takes them seriously, and that would not dissuade hardliners in Israel.

The problem is Jerusalem represents a concept that defies logic and impacts the hearts and emotions of the masses. It changes the battle for the Palestinian cause for statehood from a political battle to a religious fight. This, in a region where the lessons of history seem to have no influence on the action of its people, so history is bound to repeat itself. The move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is a win for the Israeli right, for the Iranian hardliners and for extremist anti-Semites in the west along with all the demagogues and opportunists who try to capitalize on the Palestinian plight for advancing their own agenda. The result is that the forces of extremism are winning, and those striving for a peaceful resolution are in retreat. The action could serve as a catalyst to reunite Islamic extremists who seem to be in search of another 12th century leader like Saladin, whose claim to fame in Arab history is the recapturing of Jerusalem.

Those in the Middle East and in the Islamic world striving for 21st century secular solutions to a geographic conflict will find themselves faced with a few decades of uphill battle. Those are the people many in the west are trying to win over to counter the very extremists we are fighting.

Lou Honary is a retired professor and researcher at the University of Northern Iowa.

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