On Wednesday this week, after much speculation President Donald Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Additionally, the President signaled his intention to move the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, although the President did sign a waiver delaying this move for six months.
This announcement has caused a flaring of violence between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Clashes have erupted in the occupied West Bank and over the Israeli-Gaza border, where one Palestinian was killed. The policy shift from the President has been welcomed by Israel, but has been condemned by the Arab world and also Western allies of the United States.
Officially this has been the position of the United States since the 1995 Jerusalem Act which states “Jerusalem should be recognised as the capital of Israel.” The law also required the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but conceded the move could be put off for six months at a time as long as the President informed Congress that such a suspension would be necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States. Every six months since 1995 successive Presidents have opted against moving its embassy, until now.
So why is this decision so controversial? Jerusalem is a place of great religious and historical significance. Firstly, it holds a special status for each of the three Abrahamic religions of the world. Therefore any policy decision about Jerusalem will cause a reaction amongst each of these three religions. Secondly, both Israel and Palestine recognise Jerusalem as their capital. This will be seen as moving a step closer to cementing Israeli sovereignty over the city. Lastly, when in July 1980, Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem as its united capital following the Six-Day War in 1967 this was condemned by the United Nations Security Council. There are complex religious, regional and diplomatic issues to be considered.
Undoubtedly this will make any peace deal between Israel and Palestine significantly harder and thus further reduce the prospect for peace in the region. The decision will also enhance tensions in the region. Next week Jordan and Turkey will lead a meeting discussing the Arab-Islamic response to the Jerusalem decision. Hamas have also called for a Palestinian uprising and a ‘day of rage’ to highlight the anger that exists and in Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslims have also protested outside US embassies.
In a region plagued by violence and war, this is a diplomatically foolish decision. The aim of the United States should be to secure peace in the region. This move will not help this aim. Without question, the issue of Jerusalem is one of the hardest in modern diplomacy. This, however is not the correct answer.
There is a constant question mark over which nation and which location will be the next to fall victim to a serious terrorist attack. In the United States, the possibility of an attack has taken on added significance with the presidential election looming, and there is little doubt which candidate would stand to gain the most politically should such an incident occur before polling day on the 8th November.
The recent bombs blasts that occurred in New York have not yet been claimed by any particular terrorist group. It is likely that it was an instance of lone actor terrorism inspired by Islamic State; however, this has not been proven. The most important aspect of the incident was instead the contrasting reactions that it drew from Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. One seized on the Afghan born perpetrator Ahmad Khan Rahami’s immigrant background to repeat calls for ‘extreme vetting’ of migrants entering the US, the other called for increased harmony between law enforcement agencies and Islamic communities in the US. It would not take a genius to deduce who said what.
The failed attack in New York re-emphasises how events beyond either candidate’s control could heavily influence the outcome of the election. The incident in New York thankfully did not result in any fatalities. However, what if another attack should occur in the coming weeks that does? There is every chance that such an incident will fuel more support for Trump and his hard line stance on immigration. In the aftermath of an attack, fear and anger rather than restraint generally take hold. The American people will demand tough rhetoric from both of their presidential candidates, something which Trump excels at projecting, far more so than the calm and professional Clinton. It is worth noting that Trump will be in a better position than ever to attack Clinton during the upcoming televised presidential debates that are set to draw massive national audiences.
It may seem cynical to focus on what Trump could gain in the event of such a tragedy. However, the reality is that Trump has harnessed the fear and anger that millions of Americans feel over issues such as terrorism to great effect. Another successful attack would inspire yet more fear and anger, and there is no telling how many more voters that he will be able to rope in should that time come.
Donald Trump once again displayed his talent for causing controversy with his criticism of the parents of Captain Humayun Khan, an American Muslim soldier who was killed in action during the Iraq War in 2004. His comments once again called into question the Republican candidate’s attitude toward the issue of racial relations. However, despite the shock that his remarks have caused, the worrying prospect that such behaviour may become the norm in future US presidential elections cannot be ignored.
Aside from the remorseless and uncaring manner of his comments, Trump’s criticism of Khan’s bereaved parents was unsettling because it showed that Khan had failed to win Trump’s respect despite sacrificing his life for his country. The link between Khan’s Islamic background, Trump’s comments and the hard line stance that he has taken over the issue of Islam in America is clear. The mere thought that these comments were racially motivated is enough for eerie historical comparisons to be made between Captain Khan and African-American soldiers who fought for the US during both World Wars, but returned home to experience the same racism, bigotry and violence that they had always faced.
What is also of considerable concern is the legacy that Trump’s success may leave. He has actively caused controversy to stir up more support amongst his anti-establishmentarian followers. It is unlikely that this anti-establishment feeling will subside anytime soon. It has been caused by escalating social tensions over sensitive issues such as race, immigration and gun control, which has been exacerbated by increasing instances of violence over these areas. The recent shootings in Dallas and Orlando to name but two examples. These tensions will take a long time to reconcile. The prospect of another candidate like Trump, who seeks to use this tension to their benefit emerging again in the future is realistic.
The notion that the sort of rhetoric directed toward Captain Khan’s family could consequently become the norm in US elections is disturbing. Finding a way to reconcile the social and political tension that helped give rise to it will be the greatest domestic challenge faced by the White House and Congress over the coming years. Unless genuine bi-partisan agreements and compromises are reached over the contentious issues plaguing US society, something which both major parties and the White House have failed to do during the Obama administration, we could very see this election campaign repeat itself soon.
The move by Russia to normalise its relations with Turkey was unexpected. However, it makes perfect sense when one considers Russia’s foreign policy strategy is focused on outmanoeuvring the US and Europe over the refugee and Syria crises.
The tension that had until recently dogged relations between the two nations had been caused by the downing of a Russian jet near Turkey’s border with Syria on 24th November last year. One of the most significant links between this incident and the normalisation of Russo-Turkish relations is that a repeat is now highly unlikely. The strengthening of ties between the two will allow the Russians additional freedom to conduct airstrikes in Syria. Russia is thus in a considerably stronger position to advance its own aims and those of Bashar al-Assad, something which the US and Europe do not want to see.
The significance of Turkey in the current refugee crisis cannot be ignored either. There are approximately 2.75 million refugees currently in Turkey. Russia, like ISIS, has utilised the crisis to destabilise the domestic and foreign affairs of the US and Europe. The normalisation of ties with Turkey will give the Russians increased influence over the fate of the millions of refugees resident there. This spells bad news for a Europe that is already being strained at a political and societal level by both this crisis and Brexit. The EU’s aim of expanding will also have been set back by the normalisation as Turkey had a significant interest in one day joining the EU. It is now highly doubtful that this will happen anytime in the short or medium term future, and once again shows the ease at which Russia is able to outflank the EU at a diplomatic level.
Normalisation of relations with Turkey was nothing short of a masterstroke from Russia. It shows that they are still a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, whilst decreasing the likelihood of a solution to the refugee and Syrian crises and the instability in the EU being found. Should the isolationist and unstable Donald Trump capture the White House later this year, Russia’s work to ensure that it becomes one of the dominant powers in Eurasia will be frighteningly close to fruition. The need for greater cohesion and purpose within the EU, and for the West in general over the refugee and Syria crises has never been greater.
The race for the Republican nomination is now down to 3 candidates. Marco Rubio was the latest figure to drop out when he failed to win his home state of Florida, leaving us with Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich who picked up a vital win in Ohio. Despite this victory for Kasich, Trump remains the clear front-runner.
Trump has a big lead in the delegate count but still has a hard task to reach the magic number of 1,237 delegates. Trump has to win a high percentage of the remaining delegates and could be held back by Cruz or Kasich who may benefit from Rubio’s exit. There is no certainty yet that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee.
In-spite of all the furore which has existed around Trump, he has hit a nerve in America. Regardless of the controversies and the scuffles which are happening with alarming regularity at his rallies, Trump’s numbers are solid. A significant proportion of the electorate believe in Trump and are loyal to him and support his position on building a wall and banning Muslims. These voters are angry and disillusioned and will not desert Trump; a man they believe is speaking their language.
This leaves the Republican hierarchy in a difficult position. They will know there are ways to stop Trump but will be wary of the consequences of doing this. The reputational damage of Trump running and the possible long-term damage has to be weighed against the electoral ramifications. If Trump fails to reach the delegates needed to automatically claim the nomination and is then blocked by the Republican Party then there is another possibility and that is Trump could run as a third party candidate.
Trump would use this stitch-up to his advantage insisting that he had been the victim of a grave injustice and needs to right this wrong. It is not feasible that Trump would win from this scenario but he could split the vote on the Right and take his voters with him and allow the Democratic candidate to come through and win. This is a headache the Republican Party could do without.
Whatever happens and nothing is finalised yet, Trump is not going to go quietly. That is not his style. However this ends and there are a few possibilities, one thing is for certain Donald Trump will be pivotal in the Presidential race. The Trump story has a few months to run yet and who would have predicted that at the start of the campaign.