After President Donald Trump announced U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, the world readied itself for the reaction from Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. And in the statements that followed from world leaders, it was sometimes hard to know what was a prediction, what was a provocation and what was a license for the Arab world to unleash its violent fury.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Trump’s decision would put the region in a “ring of fire.” Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah urged Palestinians to begin a third intifada. With their statements, both were essentially encouraging and blessing the violence that followed. As such, much of the blame for the handful of deaths and the clashes in the West Bank, Gaza and Europe that followed must be shared by those and other provocative Arab leaders.
But even with those encouragements, relatively peaceful protests took place in Jordan, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Cairo, where protestors nevertheless shouted, “With blood and soul, we sacrifice for you, al-Quds,” using the Arabic name for Jerusalem. The Washington Post quoted a 15-year-old in Gaza named Sarah Louay as she headed to a demonstration carrying a Palestinian flag. “Trump made the wrong decision,” she said. “We will raise our voices for Jerusalem.”
There is nothing wrong with peaceful protest. And we understand that there are those who are critical of the president’s recognition of Jerusalem and were searching for an outlet to give voice to their frustration with the long wait for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But Louay and other protestors, peaceful and not, give lie to the ominous and threatening predictions that Trump’s action would ignite violence. Let’s be clear: The cause of any violence is not the president. Those who engage in violence are responsible for their own actions. And we also know that not a single one of the clashes occurred spontaneously. The protests and the violence didn’t “erupt,” as some headlines reported. They were orchestrated. And those who promoted them should be held accountable for the resulting losses of life and limb.
Jerusalem is a potent symbol and presents a thorny practical issue in peace discussions. We hope that world leaders will stay focused on the objectives of peace and not succumb to reactions that close off political solutions.
“The United States is drawing a distinction between acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949, and the need for negotiations to resolve all the respective claims that Israelis and Palestinians have, including questions related to Jerusalem,” Dennis Ross and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in Foreign Policy. “Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues directly and without outside interference.”
Working toward resolution is the opposite of violence. But because such activities require a delicate touch and an appreciation for nuance, we wonder whether current Middle East leaders are up to the task.