KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 — Barisan Nasional will likely not tout its close ties to the United States now that President Donald Trump has moved to formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that is expected to cause unrest in the Middle East.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) political analyst Datuk Mohammad Agus Yusoff said he did not think the ruling coalition would include BN chairman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s close ties to Trump as part of its campaign in the upcoming general elections.
“Praising Trump in the context of the general election, it will not happen,” Agus told Malay Mail.
The Malaysian government had described Najib’s visit to the White House last September as a success, with Trump reportedly accompanying Najib to the door to send him off after their meeting and describing Najib as his “friend.”
National newswire Bernama quoted Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman as saying last month that Trump had said at the recent Asean Summit and Related Summits in Manila, Philippines, that Najib was a “very good friend” of his and that they had known each other before Trump took office.
International media reported yesterday Trump’s aides as saying that the American president planned to reverse decades of US policy by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shifting the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
He did so in a formal declaration at the White House last night, defying near universal warnings about the diplomatic fallout that would entail from him delivering this campaign pledge.
“Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital,” Trump was quoted as saying by the AFP outlet. “It is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
After his remarks, Trump signed a six-month waiver of congressional law that demands the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. However, his aides reportedly said this was meant to prevent funding cuts while the State Department begins work to move the embassy, a process that will take several years.
Trump stressed that his decision should not be taken to indicate the US’ stance on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, but was still described by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas as “deplorable and unacceptable”.
There are no embassies in Jerusalem, a city whose eastern half contains sites holy to all three Abrahamic faiths — Jews, Muslims and Christians — and which are contested by the Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — which Israel had annexed in the 1967 war with Arab nations — as the capital of a future state, while Israel maintains sovereignty over the entire city.
Between 1949 and 1967, Israel controlled the western part of Jerusalem, while Jordan controlled the eastern half.
Anifah told the United Nations General Assembly last September that “any action by Israel, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal and totally unacceptable.”
Shahriman Lockman, senior analyst with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis), said, in light of Trump recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, “the benefits derived from highlighting Trump or the US have eroded considerably.”
He told Malay Mail that although Trump’s move would cast a pall on Malaysia’s relations with the US, as it would for most Muslim-majority nations, routine aspects of the relationship between both countries would likely be unaffected.
“Security and defence co-operation between the US and Malaysia, for instance, have generally been resilient, even at times when the two countries have been on opposite sides of major international issues,” he said.
Independent analyst Khoo Kay Peng similarly said the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would make it “tough for Najib’s administration to continue warming up to Trump.”
Centre for Policy Initiatives director Lim Teck Ghee said Malaysia would “join the chorus of world disapproval”, but was unlikely to do anything more.
“The BN will not want to make an election issue of its special relationship with the Trump administration... not only in view of the Jerusalem development,” Lim told Malay Mail, referring to US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions’ recent criticism of the 1MDB controversy.
Oh Ei Sun, principal adviser of the Pacific Research Centre, said international affairs had never played a decisive role in Malaysian politics.
“And the reality is that Malaysia is not really in a position to substantially criticise the world’s number one superpower and back up those criticisms, if any, by practically punitive means, such as trade sanctions. So a formal, almost obligatory expression of Malaysian regrets is to be expected. But nothing more than that is likely to take place,” he told Malay Mail.
Penang Institute executive director Ooi Kee Beng said Trump’s move had put the Najib administration on the spot.
“Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is fully in line with what white supremacists want, as are Trump’s close ties with Vladimir Putin, leader of Europe’s largest non-globalised population,” Ooi added.