The UN General Assembly not long ago (December 20, 2017) witnessed a spectacle, unparalleled in the realm of international diplomacy since the days of the Third Reich, and that's more than 50 years ago. The earlier threat by President Trump after the US was singled out in the UN Security Council (reference Jerusalem) was not surprising because that is how the business tycoon has been running (or not) his administration—tactics unapproved by most of his countrymen, and perhaps voters.
What left the world baffled was no-knuckles covered intimidation by the country's ambassador Nikki Haley. Till that moment, I was under the impression that North Korea's so-called “old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject” was alone in his diatribe against anyone who did not see eye to eye with him. We were so wrong. There are many more trumpets out there.
Just before the house went to vote condemning Trump's proclamation on December 6 recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Nikki warned the countries of the world, allies or otherwise, that should they disapprove Trump's decision they could be short-funded. Said the US ambassador to the UN, “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in this assembly. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world's largest contribution” to the UN, and when other member nations ask Washington “to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.” Ouch! That sort of language is not apt against even downright beggars since Adolf Hitler begged for tragic Eva Braun's hand in marriage.
Children are loved for such behaviour. Said the five-year-old, “If you do not share your candy with me, I shall not let you play with my bat.” At another kindergarten, a toddler managed to utter, “Because you pinched my doll, you are not invited to my birthday party.” Surely diplomats are trained to do better.
Nikki's lonely voice reverberated in the hall, as she included the whole of America on Trump's side, “That is what the American people want us to do.” For Melania's sake! At 35 percent (CNN poll, December 19) DJT has the worst approval rating in a December of any elected president's first year in the White House.
Haley's remarks followed a threat from Trump himself, who reflected on the forthcoming UN vote at a Cabinet meeting. “We're watching those votes,” the President said. “Let them vote against us, we'll save a lot. We don't care.” Saving is obvious, but money in the coffer is useless when the world does not care, and one becomes friendless.
Trump and Nikki, and hopefully not the rest of the US, went down 9-128. The eight countries that voted in favour of Trump's Jerusalem move do not include (no surprises) UK, Canada, South Americans, EU, ASEAN, the Arab world…; they are Guatemala (population 1.71 crore), Honduras (93 lakh), Israel (84 lakh), Marshall Islands (53,000), Micronesia (530,000), Nauru (10,000), Palau (22,000) and Togo (8 lakh), mostly islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Donald Trump's brawny declaration is akin to recognising the Holy City as the legitimate abode of only the Jews, seeing that the State of Israel is built around the Abrahamic religion of Judaism, which grants all Jews and people of Jewish descent the right to citizenship. However, like in any other country there will be the active presence of fragments of other religions. Overwhelmingly, nearly 20 percent of the population is Muslim and they practise Islam despite “the restrictions, intimidation as well as methodical destruction of Islamic religious sites by the Israeli military.”
Jerusalem is a sacred city for the Muslims because within its Old City, on the raised Haram esh-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), rests the Dome of the Rock monument and the Al-Aqsa Mosque built in the Umayyad period. The Dome, constructed in 692 AD, remains one of the oldest surviving Islamic structures in the world, and marks the place from where Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ascended to heaven. The al-Aqsa Mosque was completed in 705 AD.
Haram esh-Sharif of the Muslims is revered as the Temple Mount by Jews and Christians alike. According to Jewish scripture, the first Temple was built on the Mount by King Solomon, son of King David, 957 BC, but was destroyed by the Babylonians. The second was constructed under the auspices of Zerubbabel in 516 BCE and destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 AD. The location is the holiest site in Judaism, associated with Jewish biblical prophets, who are also respected in Islam. It is the place Jews turn towards during prayer.
The city is also venerated by Christians because most of them believe that Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre is where Jesus (pbuh) was crucified.
Then there is the dual claim on the historic Western Wall. Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad, on his night journey to Jerusalem before ascending to paradise, tied his steed, al-Buraq, to this wall. From Jewish point of view, because entry to Temple Mount was restricted, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray and wail, hence the nomenclature, Wailing Wall (for the destroyed temples).
The site is managed as a Waqf by the Muslim community of Jerusalem since the 13th Century without interruption. But, because Israel, or more pointedly its Army, controls the Old City since 1967, both Israel and Palestine claim sovereignty over it. In the midst of this longstanding apple of discord between Israel and the Muslim world, Donald Trump pops up from political anonymity to US presidency to declare the city as the capital of one of the two countries.
Even before Trump knew how to tweet, Israel had unilaterally and provocatively declared Jerusalem its capital, which standpoint is disputed internationally and had always been rejected by the United Nations, including the USA, that is, up until the Grand Old Party failed to find a candidate other than Trump.
The world has changed since Donald inherited the “T” empire from daddy… More countries can today rely on its own resources with a little help from allies other than the traditional biggies. In other words, there are now newer hubs in the world, and our planet today is divided along more than two axes (pun not intended); the USA-Israel+7 being the latest kid on the block.
Intimidations today no longer work as effectively as in the past because there is greater prosperity among countries as well as greater conflict. People too are working harder, getting educated, more connected via social network, thinking differently, and finding newer ambitions to achieve. Information Technology has been a revolution and the effects are showing.
If one aggrieved block cuts off oil supply, any other country is ready to surmount oceans to deliver it to the “victim's” doorstep. If one country's food supply is blockaded, counter measures will see to it that the barricade is made meaningless. Money is the dominating force. Some call it economic sense because politics has taken second spot to trade, internationally as well as locally.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising architect, a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.