THE game of consequences that is Israeli-Palestinian relations was played out again this week. The Israeli forces would not have fired if the Palestinians had not been attacking the frontier fence. The Palestinians would not have been attempting to breach the fence if it had not been built. The Israelis would not have built it had it not been for Palestinian terrorist attacks. The attacks would not have been made if . . . and so on, back to the origins of the modern Israeli state. The current protests commemorate the Nakba (“catastrophe”): the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians during the war that began on 15 May 1948: the shadow side of the establishment of the State of Israel. For the Palestinians, there is little difference between commemoration and re-enactment, since the desire for the restoration of their land remains keen. The Guardian spoke to one of the protesters, Mohammed Nabieh, a 25-year-old, talking in the present tense about land owned by his family two generations ago. “I’m here because of our land that we want back. We have nothing to lose. Nobody cares about us. Why should we wait to die slowly?” Desperation and a sense of injustice tend to collapse time — something that the Jewish people will understand better than any.
Little can be done about the present conflict beyond expressing a prayerful hope that the senselessness of the violence, and its heavy cost in Palestinian lives, will cause it to subside. Also, that the calculation apparent on both sides — among the Hamas leadership fomenting the violence, and the Israeli military, with their liberal interpretation of strictures against excessive force — will be susceptible to wise counsel. That said, it is hard to see from where such counsel might come. The small group of Americans standing around the plaque on a wall in Jerusalem on Monday (the new United States embassy amounts to little more than that at present) could be dismissed as unwitting players in an insignificant scene in a multi-act play. But the US is now so involved in the country that, if it is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem. The Revd Robert Jeffress, President Trump’s favourite Evangelical pastor, was present in Jerusalem to pray at the embassy’s opening. Barbara Plett Usher, a BBC correspondent in Washington, quotes Mr Jeffress as saying: “God decided Jerusalem was the capital of Israel more than 3000 years ago during the time of King David.”
Mr Jeffress’s grasp on history seems to be as firm as it is on morality: it was he who said on US television in March that “even if” the President’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels “is proven to be true, it doesn’t matter”. In his message recorded for the embassy opening, President Trump said: “Our greatest hope is for peace.” But one notable feature of the Trump administration is that it is big on gesture, with an almost complete disregard for the consequences of its words or its actions. It is this that makes it precisely the wrong partner in any attempt at peace in the Middle East.