After drastically shrinking the size of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah on Monday, President Trump on Wednesday announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said, speaking at Utah’s State Capitol beneath a painting of Mormon pioneers. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”
“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” Trump said on Wednesday of his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. “It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”
The two actions take effect 7,000 miles apart, but they share a common denominator: Trump is tearing up formal agreements accepted by the United States government and unilaterally imposing a new understanding on the other parties involved, namely the 7 million Palestinians who live in greater Israel/Palestine, and the Native American people who live in or around Bears Ears.
On one level, Trump’s action on Jerusalem is commonsensical. The ancient city of Jerusalem is the political and cultural center of the land known as Israel/Palestine. Jews have lived in the city for thousands of years. But so have Palestinian Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, who are now relegated to second-class citizenship and dispossession by Israel’s occupation and its apartheid wall. That’s why the U.S. government for the past 50 years has refused to recognize Israel’s unilateral claim to the city until the equally valid claims of Palestinians are honored too. That is no longer the U.S. government’s position.
The shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah by 85 percent is no less one-sided. On Dec. 28, 2016, President Obama expanded the size of the park over the objections of elected officials in Utah.
Since 2009, Bears Ears has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service in consultation with five of the local tribes (Navajo Nation, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni), all of which have ancestral ties to the region. Obama’s December 2016 proclamation declared that federal agencies shall “carefully and fully consider integrating the traditional and historical knowledge” of the tribes into management decisions. The language, noted the High Country News, “gives tribes an unprecedented amount of say over their ancestral lands that lie in the public domain yet outside the boundaries of their reservations.”
But Obama engaged in extensive consultation with the local population and did not agree to all of the requests of the native people in the area. Obama's proclamation omitted several areas from the final monument designation, a “significant” concession to those who opposed the designation.
On both issues, Trump reversed Obama’s positions with the insouciance of a colonial potentate. His Jerusalem decision says Israel will dictate to, not negotiate with the Palestinians. His Bears Ears decision says Washington and Utah will dictate to, not negotiate with the native tribes that also have a claim to the land. Compromise has been jettisoned in favor of privileging the interests of whites over non-whites.
Trump made no effort to consult with other stakeholders in his deliberations. They are simply not part of any “reality” that Trump recognizes. On Monday he barely acknowledged the native peoples who have lived in the area for thousands of years before the Mormon settlers. On Wednesday he made no mention of Palestinians who have regarded Jerusalem as their capital for thousands of years.
And Trump created wedge issues to use against Democrats, at home and abroad.
In Utah, the native tribes and environmental groups have already filed suit to block Trump’s actions, while Republican elected officials and their constituents celebrate the opportunity to drill for oil and gas on previously protected lands.
On Israel, Trump has pandered to conservative Jews who yearn for a peace agreement on Zionist terms, which is Trump’s ostensible aim. He fractured liberal Democratic unity by getting Chuck Schumer to endorse his shortsighted move. And he delivered a victory for his base of Christians and alt-right anti-Semites alike.
The Christian right, which excuses Trump’s un-Christian lifestyle with a generosity they extend to few other sinners, welcomes the embrace of Israel and its domination of Muslims. The anti-Semitic alt-right, while oddly soft on right-wing Israeli Jews, is delighted by the snub of the liberal majority of American Jews who favor an equitable settlement with Palestinians, at least in theory.
When Slate’s Josh Keating says Trump’s actions in Jerusalem are "cynically pointless," he underestimates the president’s cynicism and overlooks his unmistakable point: previous political agreements between the descendants of white settlers and non-white natives are null and void. Colonialism, American-style, has returned.