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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Donald Trump: A president swallowed by history

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By Stanley L Cohen

US President Donald Trump is a great impersonator. Not a day goes by without his desperate effort to masquerade as human. Surrounded by faux gold and fawning fools from his earliest days, Trump has stumbled from scam to scam, bank to bank, grope to grope, as he reached the absolute pinnacle of moral failure. His is a world of cheap thrills, empty rhetoric and intimidating context.
Few of knowledge would stop to challenge Trump’s unprecedented scorecard of international failure. Indeed, ad hoc chaos has become very much the executive order of his day.

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Whether it’s a Muslim ban that targets states from which not a single national has engaged in an act of terrorism that has cost the life of a US citizen, to his retweets of videos posted by a British far-right activist, to a pointless border wall styled on hateful votes and little else, to a proposal to seize Iraqi oil as “spoils of war”, his is a hustler’s hustle. It’s the penultimate Ponzi scheme, a boiler-room operation based in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The life of Donald Trump is a full-time campaign to disguise incompetence to the roar of the inept. While the spectre of nuclear holocaust on the Korean Peninsula, military threats to Iran, and attacks on the domestic political aspirations and independence of Venezuela and Cuba may empower those who draw vigour from the echo of empty words, they do little but confound a world built on fragile relations and nuanced exchange. To be sure, they present a clear and real danger to us all.
Those foolish enough to believe the arrival of the Romanovs of Fifth Avenue would herald a tempering of US imperial ambitions were soon disappointed.

Thus, in Yemen, having been empowered to act on its own, the Pentagon unleashed drone slaughters of mostly civilians at an unprecedented pace. From offshore, the US fired dozens of Tomahawk missiles into Syria as an offset to a suspected chemical weapons attack. In Afghanistan, we saw the detonation of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb as very much a herald to more US troops and to permanent US warfare.
With reckless abandon, Trump has fled from international agreements designed to give hope to the prospect of life for us all long after the debacle of his imperial design comes to its well-deserved end.
The Paris Climate Agreement became the first victim, with the US departing as the only country in the world indifferent to a global call for adoption of clean energy and the phase-out of fossil fuels. With damning nationalist praise, Trump announced to the world he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”.

Not long after his coronation, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, distancing the US from what were its Asian economic allies. Later, citing its alleged anti-Israel bias, he withdrew from Unesco, which the US helped found in the shadow of World War II. Can it be long before the US abandons a nuclear arms-control agreement that has long been, verifiably, working?
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s global “no confidence” rate soared to 74 percent.

Cast in the light of a presidency certain to soon enter its second year of crude dysfunction, why is anyone, at all, surprised by Trump’s empty, lawless announcement that the US will hereinafter recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
Like the wall for which Mexico will pay, at day’s end, Trump’s apostolic blessing was little more than a “sham show in waiting”, to offer up to a powerful Zionist lobby and ignorant evangelical political base when needed.
Indeed, having shown no understanding of the history or complexity of today’s world, let alone core values of international law, Trump’s gratuitous toss of “legitimacy” to the illegitimate journey of Israel was as predictable as it was desperate.

 

Jerusalem is not Israeli, by law
Any discussion of Trump’s mindless recent croon about a world-defining moment of 70-plus years, reduced to presidential fiat, alone, must necessarily begin from the reality of international law. To bestow upon an occupation force lawful annexation of land not theirs for the taking is, ultimately, to do little more than insist that the world is flat.

In 1948, when the United Nations recognised Israel as a state, it called for a demilitarized Jerusalem as a separate entity under the protection of its exclusive aegis.
Not long thereafter, pursuant to Resolution 194 (III), the General Assembly declared Jerusalem to be an open city subject to the well-recognised legal principle of internationalisation.
Predictably, not long thereafter, Israel declared Jerusalem to be its capital as it established various government agencies in the western part of the city.
Meanwhile, Jordan continued to exercise formal control of Jerusalem’s eastern section, including, most importantly, the Old City, leaving open its ultimate status to a final settlement of the unresolved “question” of Palestinian statehood.

All was to radically change as Israel seized and occupied the entire West Bank of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, during the war of 1967, thus rendering it subject to the various protections of the Geneva Convention.
In relevant part, the convention holds it unlawful for an occupying power to transfer its own population into the territory it occupies. In addition, it prohibits the establishment of settlements and the confiscation and annexation of occupied land.

Time and time again, the United Nations, as a toothless organisation, has ordered Israel to cease its expansion of illegal settlements and annexation of occupied Palestinian land.
Time and time again, Israel, as a rogue state, has scoffed at the notion that it owes any obligation whatsoever to well-settled international law.

Indeed, between 1967 and 1989, the UN Security Council adopted 131 resolutions directly addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel held itself out as beyond the reach of these resolutions.
In 1980, and again in 1990, pursuant to Resolutions 478 and 672, the UN demanded that Israel abide by the Geneva Convention and end the construction of illegal settlements. In doing so, it emphasised the “independence” of the City of Jerusalem and the protection of its “unique spiritual and religious dimension”. Israel ignored this demand.

In February 1999, the Security Council again rebuked Israel’s effort as an occupying power “… to alter the character, legal status and demographic composition of Jerusalem”. Israel ignored this demand.
In point of fact, as of 2015, Israel had been condemned in, and had ignored, some 45 resolutions by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Anyone with even a modicum of historical context, let alone intellectual capacity or interest, would understand that a now seven-decade-old, deadly standoff between Palestine and Israel will not go away by wishful thinking or inane talismanic chant.

Yet that is precisely what Donald Trump did when, with typical denial, he preached on a faux resolution, took credit, and then, with alarming ease, said, “Problem solved … next”.
Ultimately, in a strange sort of way, and in more ways than one, Trump’s unearned arrogance and dramatic disconnect from the crossroads of history and reality may have produced results clearly unintended, yet, necessary.

 

Oslo is dead
For decades, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has toiled under the well-financed illusion that the Israelis who sat across the negotiation table, and their enablers in Washington, brought more than just the appearance of goodwill to the effort.
Time after time, outrage after outrage, the PA has always returned with hat in hand to the folly of talks which accomplished little, but provided an irrelevant political vent as more and more land was annexed, and lives stolen, to the hum of bombs or the slam of prison doors.

Palestinian technocrats who started out in their prime with Oslo have now aged beyond hope, along with any illusion of relevance. So, too, the march of time leaves no doubt that Oslo has represented nothing but a palpable pretext for Israel to carry out systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, be it by force of arms or by law.

In the years since Yasser Arafat posed with Yitzhak Rabin and renounced armed struggle, three US presidents have come and gone. Each has sold a perverse balance that the US could, somehow, play objective arbiter in the midst of a one-sided slaughter supported, all the while, by US politics and money.
However, do give Donald Trump credit where credit is due. With one, short, slurred speech, he peeled away, forever more, the veneer of any US integrity or independence when it comes to facilitating a just and equitable resolution, respecting the rights and aspirations of Palestinians.

Oslo is a failed, futile fantasy that has filled the coffers of the few while the many have suffered from an economic strangle-hold dressed up in institutional benevolence that, in reality, has been used primarily by the PA to buy and control political winds and opposition.
Any reasonable read must lead to the conclusion that the long terminally-ill Oslo has died, along with its whimsical two-state solution, when Trump, essentially, told the PA to shut its doors and walk away.
Hopefully, 82-year-old Mahmoud Abbas the message loud and clear.

 

Stanley L Cohen is an attorney and human rights activist who has done extensive work in the Middle East and Africa.

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