Victory for evangelicals as US embassy moves to Jerusalem – but at what price?
As several are killed and dozens wounded along the Gaza border amid violent protests there and across the West Bank, shortly after 4pm local time today Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, will calmly pray for the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump at the highly controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The violence and instability the move has brought to the region may not be of paramount concern for Jeffress, who as Mitt Romney pointed out last night has said 'you can't be saved by being a Jew'. It may not bother John Hagee, the right-wing founder of Christians United for Israel who will deliver the benediction at the ceremony and who recently told Trump that he will gain 'political immortality' over the move. And it may not be too concerning for the Republican former presidential nominee Michele Bachmann, also in town for the opening and who yesterday apologised for her past 'ignorance'.
For the truth is that many such evangelical Christian leaders who support Trump believe that his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is fulfilling biblical prophecy and that is to be celebrated, whatever the cost; indeed, as Bachmann has said, that Jesus is 'coming soon'.
The Fox News host Jeanine Pirro spoke for many evangelicals over the weekend by saying that Trump has 'fulfilled the biblical prophecy'. She told the right-wing network: '[Trump], like King Cyrus before him, fulfilled the biblical prophecy of the gods worshipped by Jews, Christians and, yes, Muslims, that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state and that the Jewish people finally deserve a righteous, free and sovereign Israel.'
Never mind that the political reality brought on by Trump's unilateral recognition, embodied by the embassy opening this afternoon, is surely that the two-state solution is in the deep freeze.
For while Israel – and seemingly now Trump, backed by US evangelicals – considers Jerusalem its 'eternal, undivided capital', the Palestinians regard the east of the city – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War – to be the capital of any future Palestinian state. Critics argue that Trump's plan effectively rules out a two-state solution to which the agreed division of Jerusalem would be key.
True, evangelical spokesman Johnnie Moore, who is credited with coordinating between evangelicals and the White House on the issue, has begged to differ.
Moore recently told the BBC: 'The Palestinians have referred to East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state. Which implies that at least West Jerusalem is going to be the capital of the Israeli state.'
This, in turn, implies that Jerusalem can, ideally, one day be the shared capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state. And this is of course in theory true.
But if Trump had actually said that in his speech at the White House confirming the move – which he (presumably deliberately) didn't – it would have caused much less adverse reaction, one that has already resulted in dozens of Palestinian deaths in demonstrations and a deterioration in the security situation in the region.
It would not have been so bad if Trump stressed he was specifying West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which would have left open the possibility that East Jerusalem might still in future be that of the Palestinians.
But nor did he specify, as all governments in the past including his own have assumed, that West Jerusalem would be the site of a future Israeli capital.
In other words, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Trump's administration is indeed open to Jerusalem as an 'undivided' capital. And Moore, while laughing off the idea that evangelicals back the move for theological reasons, has repeatedly said that this was a 'strategic' and 'geo-political' decision.
Trump's logic appears to have been that because not recognising Jerusalem as the capital or moving the US embassy there had not produced peace so far, doing both things might.
Yet he put the Palestinians in a seemingly impossible position, demanding that they re-engage with the peace process under the new humiliating terms or face consequences, including possible funding cuts which he announced on Twitter over Christmas.
Nonetheless, Moore has a point, on paper at least. The unspecific terms in which Trump made his announcement does not rule out East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital.
It's just that Trump dangerously failed to rule in such a scenario.
All of which points to an ideological move, and one influenced by the evangelical leaders whose logic Trump may not understand.
It would be unfair and inaccurate to suggest that Trump himself was seeking to usher in the end-times by his interference in the delicate balance of Jerusalem, which must be a shared city for any peaceful solution to last.
Nonetheless, Hagee's advice that he will receive 'political immortality' – presumably because of support from what is grotesquely called 'the Jewish lobby' as well as evangelicals – is probably ringing in Trump's ears.
But in the real world of Middle Eastern politics, as evangelicals treat the region as a playground and Hagee and Jeffress pray at the new US embassy in Jerusalem today, the prospects of what Trump once on the campaign trail called 'the ultimate deal' seem more diminished than ever.