Lincoln Mitchell on the Israel Issue


In a week perhaps deemed ordinary by his own high standards, POTUS recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel and ordered the US Embassy to move there. To say Trumps’ decision caused an uproar would be a wild understatement. Palestinians took to the streets, Erdogan and Iran, in a rare show of unity, condemned US policies in the Middle-East, the EU flat-out refused to have anything to do with it and Israel celebrated what it deems a massive diplomatic victory. The real impact of that decision, however, remains to be seen – so we asked long time Middle East and South Caucasus analyst Lincoln Mitchell to share his insights on the matter.

How final is the decision and how much time will be needed to implement it?

The American government does not work in a way that the US President makes a decision, clicks his fingers and it immediately happens. On the contrary. So, this will take some time. The impact is not clear, either. There have been odd statements from the White House “we are doing this to accelerate the peace process” I don’t really understand that. And I’m somebody who’s paid attention to the peace process in the Middle East pretty closely for the last 30 years. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem without negotiating, without making a deal of some kind, sets the peace process back because the US gives away one of its bargaining chips. Setting the location of the US Embassy after the peace process is something we should be thinking about. Everybody knows that the final status of the city of Jerusalem is central to the peace process. It is a city both Palestinians and Israelis claim to have a deep significance; for good reasons, as well as being the historical capital.

This was a decision made by the Trump Administration for reasons that have more to do with domestic American politics than with the politics of the Middle East. The demand to move the capital to Jerusalem belongs to hawkish American policies on the Middle East, and does not come from American Jews voting overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton and Obama. The demand comes from Evangelical Christians who are Trump’s supporters. American Jews are more for the peace process and negotiations. Based on reasons from Christian ideology, which I’m not entirely familiar with, they believe that Jewish people should have their capital in Jerusalem. So, this was done by Trump for Evangelical Christians so they will support him, even though he will be delivering very little in substance of policies. Unfortunately, the prospects of the peace process in the Middle East may worsen because Trump first needs to improve his domestic policy.

Yet another thing is that this will make Israel less safe for everybody in the next coming days, weeks and months. I’m concerned about the physical safety of friends and their families in Israel. Many Evangelical Christians do not have friends in Israel, but many American Jews do. So, POTUS has made my family in Israel less safe.

So, even though you’re Jewish, you’re not celebrating Trump’s decision like other Jews around the world?

It’s a cynical move by the President. I am, as you pointed out, Jewish, but I am American, and I only have one passport and it’s an American one. And as an American Jew, I’m much more troubled by the POTUS that has facilitated and in some cases encouraged anti-Semitism. The USA is a much less safe country for American Jews than it was 1-2 years ago. That’s because of the rise of anti-Semitism that’s been facilitated by this President. This is the President that has allowed people like Sebastian Gorka, with ties to Nazi organizations, into high positions of power. Trump allowed, unabashedly, anti-Semite people like Steve Bannon into positions of power.

REGARDING THE POLITICAL WEIGHT OF THAT DECISION, do you foresee some chain reaction internationally following it?

No. We don’t have that kind of momentum right now, although the US has a great role in global leadership. Obama and Bush were able to build coalitions, but now the US is doing that alone. Other than the US and perhaps Georgia, there are not too many countries outside Israel where there is a strong pro-Israel voice. This was not a decision made by Trump with our allies in mind. This was a decision made by Trump unilaterally.

You mentioned Georgia being OUTSPOKENLY PRO-ISRAEL. Considering that, and the safety concerns you mentioned, do you think there are reasons for us in Georgia to worry about what might unfold in Israel?

No. I don’t think Georgia is any less safe than it was yesterday.

We saw President Erdogan’s very critical remarks on Trump’s decision. What do you think might change in the regional politics, and how might this affect the south Caucasus?

The Middle East, which has not been the most stable region in the world, may become even less so. As for Georgia, it has successfully presented itself to the world for the last decade as a place where people can come together - whether you are from Iran or the Gulf state or Israel or the US. Various people can visit Georgia and do business there side by side. That is Georgia’s comparative advantage, and this government and previous one should be credited for that. I would hate to see that jeopardized.

If our government says something pro-Israel, might Palestine, a non-recognized state, join those countries who recognize Abkhazia & South Ossetia?

Perhaps. If I were advising the Georgian government, I would say – who cares? Palestinian authority is not an international powerhouse, and even if there are many Muslim countries who sympathize with Palestinians, they are still not going to jeopardize their own state interests. The USA, China, EU, Australia and Japan all view Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of Georgia. That is the position of almost all powerful countries of the world, with the obvious exception of Russia. That’s not going to change regardless of Georgia’s position on Israel. Those countries value relationships with the US, EU and, in some cases, value relationships with China, thus they know that recognizing Abkhazia or South Ossetia will jeopardise those relationships. Georgia has had deep relations with Israel for a number of years. This and previous governments of Georgia have made it clear that they want good relations with Israel, and I do not think that’s going to change.

Vazha Tavberidze

18 December 2017 21:44