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The View From Saudi Arabia On Trump's Jerusalem Policy


This morning, protests erupted in Lebanon near the United States Embassy. They were broken up with tear gas and water cannons. The crowds were there to protest President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. The move reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy and went against the advice of many world leaders in Europe and across the Middle East. We're going to look now at how the president's announcement is playing out across the region and whether there are any prospects for an actual peace deal. NPR's Deb Amos, who has covered the Middle East for many years, joins us now. Good morning, Deb.

DEB AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So there's been some violent protests in Jerusalem. And there have been protests at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut this morning. But should we expect these protests to spread?

AMOS: You know, Jerusalem was the least of it, surprisingly. You know that this issue is deeply felt in the Arab and Muslim world. Jerusalem has been in the Arab imagination for centuries. The Palestinian cause is the uniting factor in a region that doesn't agree on much. The president's actions has been condemned in every Arab capital, including America's closest allies. That's Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But, really, the larger question, Lulu, is, can Arab leaders do anything about it? They're distracted by their pressing issues. There's wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. There's a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. They're all worried about instability. But what can they do really, practically about this decision? And the answer may be not much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Trump administration says it's going to come up with a proposal for restarting the peace process in the Middle East. But, you know, is that really feasible now that the U.S. has recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital?

AMOS: That's pretty much the common theme from analysts from Europe to the Middle East. The U.S. cannot be a neutral broker after this announcement. Trump's position on Jerusalem was welcomed mostly by Israelis and by Trump's domestic base. But for a peace process, you have to have a buy-in from the Palestinians and from Arab capitals. And, in particular, that means the Saudis.

The Trump administration has made it a deliberate and public effort to court the Saudis. We know that his son-in-law Jared Kushner has spent a lot of time with the powerful young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, presumably a key partner in the peace process. But according to one Saudi official I spoke to, this deal - this will make achieving a peace deal almost impossible. He said it will make it difficult for us to maintain a close relationship with this administration. And here's Ian Black. He's the author of a new book "Enemies And Neighbors: Arabs And Jews In Palestine And Israel" on the Saudi response.

IAN BLACK: Whatever the Saudis want to do privately, there is no way, to my mind, publicly that they can endorse something like this. There is no way that any Saudi government, even a man as taboo-breaking and as modern and as reckless even as Mohammad bin Salman, is going to do that.

AMOS: He's talking about the Saudi crown prince, the son of King Salman. And he says Trump's unilateral action plays into Saudi's conflict with Iran.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Iran has been the common denominator between the Trump administration and the Saudis. Both sides see Iran as the regional bad guy. That's also a view shared by Israel. Does that bring the three sides together?

AMOS: I think not, although I think the Israelis did want to improve those relations. Let me bring you back to Ian Black, who says Trump has complicated relations with a key Arab ally.

BLACK: For the Saudis to go along with American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital plays right into the Iranian narrative that the Saudis and the Gulf allies are what they call Arab Zionists. That's a pretty toxic insult to throw around in Arabic or in Persian in the Middle East nowadays.

AMOS: That's Ian Black. He's author of a new book "Enemies And Neighbors: Arabs And Jews In Palestine And Israel." I think we have to watch carefully what now happens in the region.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Deb, thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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