Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is a Middle East deal-breaker

The gold-covered Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount complex is seen in this overview of Jerusalem's Old City Dec. 6. In an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Christian leaders in Jerusalem said U.S. recognition of the city as the capital of Israel could have dire regional consequences. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill) The gold-covered Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount complex is seen in this overview of Jerusalem's Old City Dec. 6. In an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Christian leaders in Jerusalem said U.S. recognition of the city as the capital of Israel could have dire regional consequences. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)    

President Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon and author of The Art of the Deal, fancies himself a dealmaker. Indeed, since taking office he has projected himself as being able to broker the ultimate deal: an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. But in announcing on Dec. 6 that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there, he threatens to destroy any remaining hope of resuscitating the moribund peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II have warned against the move. Even the Saudi government, itself heavily involved in disrupting the politics of the region, defended the rights of the Palestinians to share the city as their capital; and Turkey threatened to break relations with Israel in the event the United States took the move. Pope Francis has warned that the move could add a new source of tension “in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”

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The international community has long recognized the unique political and religious status of Jerusalem. The 1947 U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine envisaged a special status for the holy city as a corpus separatum under international governance. The Israeli War of Independence left the city divided along the famous green line between Israel and Jordan.

If Mr. Trump goes through with his announced intentions, he will dispel any thought that he can broker an agreement in the disputatious Holy Land.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel gained control of the whole city, but the international community has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem; and for that reason, nearly all foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv. But when the Holy See extended diplomatic recognition to Israel in 1994, it opened an office in Tel Aviv as its “embassy.” Interestingly, the apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, Leopoldo Girelli, resides in Arab East Jerusalem.

When Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, the status of Jerusalem was left to be discussed in “final status talks.” Those talks were originally scheduled for 1996, but they did not begun until 1999 and the topic was ultimately left to the Camp David II talks in 2000, hosted by Bill Clinton. The future of Jerusalem was one of the issues over which final status talks collapsed, as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could not agree to a resolution without the approval of the kings of Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, descendants of the prophet Mohammed who hold a hereditary responsibility for the Muslim holy places there.

There was also great consternation over a tentative agreement to hand over the Christian Armenian Quarter of the Old City to Israel. The Christian patriarchs and heads of churches protested that agreement, even though Israelis had already bought up much of the property in that district.

Declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s “united and eternal capital,” as Israeli leaders put it, is a serious step, signaling diplomatic approval for Israel's seizure of the city by force and eroding what had been united international opposition to the idea that the Holy City could be claimed through Israel's military victory. Furthermore, Israel’s physical control of the city has been accompanied by the seizure of Palestinian homes and whole Palestinian neighborhoods by ultra-Zionist settlers.

In quiet acts of ethnic cleansing, Palestinian Jerusalemites are denied residency because of extended absences or because they have married residents of the West Bank. Their neighborhoods are rezoned for public uses; their homes are occupied by Jewish settlers and they have no legal recourse. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem means giving the seal of approval to “facts on the ground” that despoil Palestinian Jerusalemites of their birthright.

With today's announcement, Mr. Trump has dispelled any thought that he can broker an agreement in the disputatious Holy Land. Palestinians will put no trust in him, and they will be right to believe the United States has given up all pretense to being an honest broker of an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Middle East is already a tinderbox. Besides continuing to support Sunni insurgents in Syria and Iraq, Saudi Arabia is mired in a religious war with the Yemeni Houthi, whom they believe are heretics and on whom they have tried to impose their own harsh Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative understanding of the Muslim faith; they have also tried to strangle the pluralist monarchy in Qatar and remove the Sunni premier of multiconfessional Lebanon.

With ISIS on the run, there is little evidence that the Iraqi government will come to agreement with the Kurds, the Sunni or other minorities to function as a single country with a common future. Alas, after more than six years of civil war, Syria has been laid utterly to waste. The Middle East is a region near the tipping point. A provocative decision on Jerusalem could be all it takes to send the region spinning into cataclysm.

One wonders where the president is getting his advice. Certainly not from General H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who, insiders say, cleaned out an Israeli clique in his shop, a legacy from the disgraced General Michael Flynn. Could it be from Steve Bannon, his former adviser, who delights in stirring up trouble? Even with all his Russian baggage, I doubt it was Jared Kushner, who had too much riding on his personal involvement in a peace settlement to cross the bright red line around Jerusalem.

Perhaps it was his new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a backer of the Israeli settler movement and an opponent of the two-state solution. Breaking with the international consensus and more than a quarter-century of bipartisan U.S. policy would seem to be right in line with his beliefs. It would also serve the ideological agenda of his friend, Israeli Premier Bibi Netanyahu, for occupying all of “Judea and Samaria,” or what the world thinks of as Jerusalem and the West Bank.

By following through with his promises on Jerusalem, not just the West Bank but the Arab Street across the Middle East is liable to rise up in protest. Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims as well as Jews and Christians. Dealing the Jerusalem card to Israel is a prescription for chaos, opening a Pandora’s box of unforeseen ills to menace the rest of the world.

It could make the rolling disaster in Iraq look like the good old days.

This article has been updated.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week ago

Father Drew
You neglect to say that Jerusalem has been recognized as the capital of Israel by all US Presidents starting with Bill Clinton and the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem is actually directed even now by an existing US law passed in 1995 with overwhelming support by both Democrats and Republicans, including I believe the positive vote of all the current congressional leaders.

Further you credit Arafat with refusing the 2000 peace accords based on deference to the leaders of the other Muslim Nations. That is pure pap.

He was quite sure he would lose his position as head of the Palestinian authority and perhaps even his head if came back without a "right of return" and control of at least 1/2 of Jerusalem.
His concern with the Muslim holy sites consisted only of using them to energize the Second Intifada.
While I don't quite understand why the change in Embassy location was done now and I don't see or agree to the sense of urgency in doing it, I nonetheless think your essay creates / postulates a sense of change in US foreign policy which is not in fact the case. The litany of Middle East disasters you have set forth have occurred have been blamed generally on the failure of every attempt at a Palestinian Peace. If these same disasters continue to crop up I suppose that the Trump,annoucement will allow you a "new reason "for these horrors by blaming Trump's announcement . Convenient, but 60 years of history seems to show it was going to happen anyway

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Robert Lewis
4 days 3 hours ago

You and others here need to get certain things straight, which you and they constantly obfuscate: acceptance of Israel's existence behind "safe and secure borders" depends upon Israel actually announcing WHAT ARE HER BORDERS, which she has consistently refused to do, historically. The Arab nations went to war in the past, both in 1967 and in 1948, because of the, for them, unavoidable premise that the establishment of the State of Israel was, indeed, a revisiting of European colonial expansion in their region. I heard this regularly, during my recent time living in Egypt. The refusal to declare her political borders only exacerbates what may be Arab Muslim paranoia regarding a Western implant in their region of the world.
Also, regarding the possession and governance of the city of Jerusalem, I think that only the demented dispensationalists (radically heretical Protestant fundamentalists, according to even the right-wing Catholics who frequent these threads) are the only people who are close to understanding both the Zionists' and the Salafist Muslims' attitude toward "holy places." When Arafat was asked why he would not agree to the Oslo deal that conceded 90-95% of his demands--which concessions are constantly cited in the American press without context--he said that control of the city of Jerusalem was the deal-breaker. Arafat claimed he'd be assassinated by his people if he went back without having gained for them possession of Jerusalem. His statement of this to Clinton is almost never cited in the American accounts of why the Clinton-sponsored negotiations failed. It's because Americans do not want to try to understand religious people's devotion to pilgrimage and to "sacred spaces" and their generally misguided willingness to die for control of them. Jerusalem SHOULD BE an "international city," out of the control of nation-states and managed and governed by a consortium of religious bodies, as the Vatican has always held.

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 days 1 hour ago

Robert
All fine points on the emotions involved ....But what are the chances that either The Palestinians or the Israeliis will accept Jerusalem as an International City? Exactly whom do you envision exercising police control over such an International City?.......
Let's not really rely on the Vatican for the moral high ground on this problem: As late as 1947 the Vatican was asserting ownership/ control rights of Holy Sites in Jerusalem based on various "Protectorates" established by withdrawing European Powers.

Robert Lewis
3 days 21 hours ago

The Vatican of 2017 is hardly the Vatican of 1947. Additionally, you may be interested in knowing that several million Christians living in the Middle East ALSO feel betrayed by what President Drumpf has done. HERE is an example of what I'm talking about. If you doubt that Catholics, Orthodox and Copts have a right to feel oppressed by such actions, I suggest you take a look at the chapter on Israel in William Dalrymple's great travel book "To the Holy Mountain"--the only book by this superb historian cum travel writer ever to be panned by the New York literary establishment. Why? Because he details in that chapter the persecution, in the form of evictions, foreclosures, harassment of Christian missions, schools and ecclesiastical bureaus, by Israeli officialdom.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 days 19 hours ago

Robert
You are the one who referenced a long standing Vatican position: see your above "......governed by a consortium of religious bodies, as the Vatican has always held". Now you state the Vatican today is not the Vatican of 1947?

I will readily grant you that the Israeliis have no special carve out for Christians and have in fact squeezed them out in many locations. But your entirely correct point nonetheless suffers quite badly by comparison to the active physical killing of Christians in multiple adjacent Arab countries.
I repeat my question: will the Israelis or Palestinians accept an International City governed by a consortium of religious bodies? And the police in this religious nirvana will come from where and be controlled by whom .?
Political leaders will always try to use religion to advance and enhance their own positions and religious leaders will always try to use politics to advance and enhance their own sects. The declared and de facto Jewish and Muslim states don't try to pretend this is not the case. The Middle East religious states' candid recognition of this alliance of politics and religion may offend our secularist sensibilities but frankly our reaction is irrelevant.

Trump's position on Jerusalem is of a piece with the position of Clinton, Bush and Obama. It changes no facts on the ground. It grants no territorial rights. But it does allow both the Israeli and the Palestinian politicians a reason to loudly restate their respective positions with vehemence. You are again correct to note that Christians are caught in the "crossfire" but you act as if this "crossfire" has not been there during the many months prior to the Trump statement.

Kevin Murphy
1 week ago

What peace process? Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a partitioned Jerusalem as part of a settlement. Those interested in peace might have said "that is not good enough, but it is a starting point for negotiations." The Palestinians rejected it, and another Intifada was launched. Trump is just dealing with reality. I find that rather refreshing, and certainly more helpful than Pope Francis' usual bromide statements on world issues, e.g., "nuclear weapons are bad", "we need wisdom and justice over the Jerusalem question," etc. I don't see how this move could make things worse, and it may force all the region's players to grow up.

Robert Lewis
4 days 3 hours ago

You would probably call the Beatitudes "bromides."

Tim Donovan
1 week ago

I believe Israel had made some significant errors in its treatment of Palestinians, and that Israel should cease building any new settlements. Also, I believe that Jerusalem, as a sacred city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, should remain an international city. However, I do believe that over the years, Palestinian terrorist acts have marred prospects for peace. I feel that Israel's right to exist within secure borders is a crucial step for Palestinians to acknowledge. Finally, I believe that sincere dialogue between the various religious and ethnic groups will be essential to bring a fruitful conclusion to peace in the Holy Land and in time, hopefully the Middle East at large.

Toby Gillis
1 week ago

Until the Lord returns, there will not be, can not be, peace in Palestine. The Jews claim it by right...IT IS THEIRS ALONE. Jerusalem is not an "international city". The Romish church wants it for their own power and prestige. The "Palestinians" claim it by default...(the Jews were driven out, they never abandoned it) There are no official Palestinians beyond the Jewish nation, all others are usurpers or invaders. Rome has always been jealous of Israel's rightful claim to being God's chosen people and have always tried to put their own pagan self in that place. Good luck with that!
Trump has finally done what the last 5 American Presidents have promised, thank God for a politician with backbone.

Tim O'Leary
6 days 21 hours ago

While I don’t know if this decision by Trump will end up having net positive or negative consequences (since it is near-impossible to tell what will happen in that region), I do think, as other bloggers have said, that the article should have been more balanced in its historical interpretation, especially since President Clinton castigated his Republican predecessor (Bush 1) for not recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, and in 1995 the Senate (93-5) and the House (374-37) approved the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (became US Law Nov 8, 1995), that required the relocation, even trying to withhold State Department financing until the embassy was actually opened there. Obama said in 2008, just after he was nominated, that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” So, it appears that only the inveterate liar Trump is actually keeping his word?

Rafael Garcia
6 days 17 hours ago

Thank you Fr. Drew for a fine, comprehensive article on this crucial and complex issue. So much of the world sees the ongoing systemic injustices against the Palestinian peoples by the Israeli government, including disproportionate military retaliations, as we recently saw with Gaza. Gaza has been called the largest outdoor prison in the world. This is not an issue of religion, since many Jewish people, including members of organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace in the U.S., and even within the State of Israel, are against the systemic oppression of the Palestinian people. It's an issue of a system and convictions which subscribe to Zionism.

Early in 2017, a UN report concluded "Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole." Palestinian peoples are unjustly treated by the Israeli government within the occupied territories.

It's encouraging that in 2015, Pope Francis and the Vatican declared Palestine a 'state'.

Can anyone believe that there is a true desire to arrive at a 'two-state' solution when the State of Israel encourages and even provides financial aid, to those who want to build settlements on the Occupied Territories? And we in the U.S. continue to provide $3+ billions of dollars annually to the Israeli military even though there have been constant calls by the U.S. for a halt to the settlements. How can the U.S., with it's ongoing turn-a-blind-eye to systemic injustices, to ongoing violations of multiple UN resolutions and constant, to unquestioned military support of Israel, attempt to be an 'impartial' agent in working for peace in the Holy Land?

Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor, Palestinian theologian and founder of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts & Culture in Bethlehem wrote an excellent book, "Faith in the Face of Empire - The Bible through Palestinian Eyes". He astutely writes, "Empires can't survive by their military, political, and economic power and might alone. Rather, the justification of the empire has to be based on a higher logic; the violation of human rights needs to have something akin to divine purposes and to be set within an ideological and theological framework." This was true, he mentions, of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Crusaders, Muslim Empire and modern colonial history. "Israel is no exception", he adds.

Fr. Rafael Garcia, S.J.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 days 15 hours ago

Father Garcia
The reasons Arafat turned down the 2000 Clinton Peace Accords were???. The second Intafada was based on what??

Vince Killoran
5 days 23 hours ago

This is the facile response given by pro-Israelis government supporters every time the subject of Palestine v. Israel is raised. Of course, it is more complicated.

Here's what Oxford University's Avi Shlaim wrote in 2005: "[T]he basic reason for the failure of Oslo to resolve the conflict is that Israel, under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the deal. By resorting to violence, the Palestinians contributed to the breakdown of trust without which no political progress is possible. But the more fundamental cause behind the loss of trust and the loss of momentum was the Israeli policy of expanding settlements on the West Bank which carried on under Labour as well as Likud. This policy precluded the emergence of a viable Palestinian state without which there can be no end to the conflict."

Stuart Meisenzahl
5 days 2 hours ago

Vince
Speaking of facile....."Likud reneged on the [Oslo] deal"! Now there is a fulsome explanation
Please, Oslo was 1993-95. The Clinton Accords were a full 5 years later. The question was directed to rejection of the 2000 Accords.
When Arafat died he inexplicably had a personal fortune in Europe valued by the CIA in the $$ billions. Perhaps you could explain how as the leader an impoverished group of people Arafat managed to accumulate that kind of wealth .

Vince Killoran
2 days 21 hours ago

2000 was a continuation (round) of the Oslo process. The Clinton Accords were part of the framework. BTW, the Likud sentence is part of a paragraph summary I provided and readers could see, so please don't trade in cheap pinched quoting tactics.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 days 16 hours ago

Vince
You are precisely correct ...."the readers could see [the full paragraph]". That being the case, your suggestion of "a pinched quote" is rather misleading.

So to clarify my original Point, Shalim said: "The basic reason for the failure of Oslo to resolve the conflict is that Israel, under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the deal." That sir is at best a 'facile explanation' as noted.
Mr Shalim goes on to further blame Palestinian violence and Israeli settlements.....but his basic accusation as stated is that "Israel reneged"! Facile indeed!
Still I ask , why did Arafat reject the Clinton Accords?
Ambassador Denis Ross who was present for the span of the negotiations on behalf of the United States places the blame squarely on Arafat who refused to negotiate even when Clinton, by Ross' telling, in the final hours of his term proposed a plan, accepted by Ehud Barak that gave all of the West Bank to Palestine (except approximately the 4% where 80% of the Israeli settlers then lived), as well as the Temple Mount and control of East Jerusalem. (See "The Missing Peace, The Inside Story of the Fight for The Middle East Peace" by Ross.) Ross' position is I believe corroborated by Clinton himself.

Vince Killoran
2 days ago

Your original rebuttal wasn't "facile"--it was misleading since it took one of three points Professor Shalim was making and transformed it into a monocausal claim That wasn't his argument. Why did Arafat reject the Clinton Accords? Because of where the 4% were strategically placed: the 4% would have annexed strategically important and highly valuable sections of the West Bank–while retaining “security control” over other parts–that would have made it impossible for the Palestinians to travel or trade freely within their own state without the permission of the Israeli government.

The annexations and security arrangements would divide the West Bank into three disconnected cantons. In exchange for taking fertile West Bank lands that happen to contain most of the region’s scarce water aquifers, Israel offered to give up a piece of its own territory in the Negev Desert–about one-tenth the size of the land it would annex–including a former toxic waste dump.

Given you other many posts on the web I can read that you feel strongly about this matter. I doubt that these facts will changed your mind.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 day 18 hours ago

Vince
Actually the only thing I feel strongly about in this matter is that there are truck loads of blame on both sides.
Political leaders on both sides "gin up" their co religionists whenever convenient. So far the only martyrs for peace are Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat. Both dared to lead and compromise.
America Magazine is deeply tilted to the Palestinians and my comments are meant only to indicate that America's published essayists are so irretrievably invested in the current "social injustice" issues involved that they like to erase or forget the facts which basically generated the current situation. They want to tear their garments over the current "violations of international law" by Israel while ignoring that the Arab nations violated the same international laws when they initially attacked the UN created nation of Israel.
I think you mistate what land Israel would give up by referring to the Negev desert. My reading indicates that there was no specification of what land would be surrendered. To suggest it was the Negev desert is to prejudice the issue.
The International City solution is a convenient sop which history has demonstrated will never last and probably would never even be initially accepted by the Palestinians or the Israelis.
As for the good professor at Oxford, I think he carries the heavy burden of his lost family fortune and social status caused by the UN creation of Israel and the consequent eviction of his father and family from Iraq.

Vince Killoran
1 day 17 hours ago

A Oxford don who bases his scholarship on lost social status? That's a new one.

It's good to remember that this is an asymmetrical power relationship. In terms of facts, I draw from Jerome Slater Political Science Quarterly 116:2; Deborah Sontag, New York Times, 7/26/01; Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, 9-10/00; Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, 8/9/01

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 day 17 hours ago

Vince
The Dons of Oxford are certainly not insulated from personal prejudice by their robes!
Further as noted above The Don was not present at the negotiations but Denis Ross was. It's a case of the speculator Don vs the Spectator Dipolmat!
You are correct.....there is an now an asymmetrical power difference....but that difference in 1948 and 1967 tilted quite the other way!

Vince Killoran
1 day 14 hours ago

The Palestinians are living in open-air internment camps and you think they have the upper-hand?! Perhaps I misunderstood you. But Dennis Ross is hardly the detached scholarly perspective. I'll take my sources over yours!

In any case, I'll leave the last word to you and I wish you well.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 day 13 hours ago

Vince
Yes you misunderstand my comment:.....in1948 and in 1967 the combined Arab Armies in support of the Palestinians held the upper hand by numbers......but loss in 1967 confirmed by their final decisive loss in the Yom Kippur War now gives the Israelis the unquestioned upper hand. Through out this the Palestinians have been pawns of their neighbors ....rejected by Egypt and evicted from Jordan (not without cause in both cases) , leaving them even at a greater negotiation disadvantage.
I certainly do not believe that Denis Ross is an unbiased observer but at least he was present during actual negotiations whereas Avi Shlaim relies on the after reporting of others. Further Shlaim in 2000 was already a leading proponent of the revisionist history school whose stated aim was/is to discredit what it refers to as "the myth of Israeli History" (see "the War of Israeli Historians", Annales Jan-Feb 2004)

rose-ellen caminer
5 days 19 hours ago

When Israel was declared a state in 1948, Jerusalem was not part of it. Israel annexed land during the 67 war; which is a violation of international law.Yes the Arabs fought the creation of the state of Israel as it was created with them already living their. Zionist colonizers from Europe and Russia settled it and then wanted to make a state at the expense of the Arab people already living there;[ the whole area was called greater Syria ] whatever name you give them today. The identity Palestinian is valid since that area now Israel was historically Palestine. though it was not a nation state there were Arab people living there and now they've been displaced.
Today all Arabs including Palestinians and Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran, all of them, say they would recognize Israel if Israel would go back to the original 1948 borders OR if all Palestinians could be made Israeli citizens. But Israel insists that granting non Jewish Palestinians the right of return, would make Israel a non Jewish majority nation over time. And Israel must remain majority Jewish. That is a racist position. Israel could have a majority of citizens be non Jewish yet still have its official language be Hebrew, they could keep their flag , their historical narrative ,their education system and have an open door policy for Jews to immigrate to. It is pure bigotry for a professed democratic state to that insists that Israel must have a population that is majority Jewish . And to cite this as reason for not letting the Palestinians Arabs to be citizens. OR Israel could return to its original borders which would make Jerusalem part of Palestine. As it was till the 67 war. Today the Arabs would recognize such a state on those conditions, thought initially they fought the creation of Israel; understandably so, as they were not consulted in this European/Russian colonialist style land grab, and many were expelled from their homes, from their land, from their cities and towns. A legal agreement could be made to allow Israelis and anyone to visit the sacred city; guarded by Israeli and Palestinian troops, OR better yet, a united Jerusalem could be made an independent city/ state where any Palestinian or Israeli Jew could be a citizen ,if they wished. But Israel wants peace talks after it already has everything it demands.
That the city of Jerusalem is sacred to three religions [sacred first to Jews then Christians then Muslims,] is a reality today and to make such a sacred city a political capital of a state, is not only wrong because politically the original border of modern Israel do not include Jerusalem[ acquiring land from wars is today illegal] but also religiously; it politicizes what is a sacred place transcending earthy politics.
For Christians to take the position that ancient Jewish history matters for we partake of the Jewish heritage religiously and culturally, but Muslim history does not matter to us for we are not Muslims is contemptuous, and sinful. For Americans to hold such beliefs is to deny to Palestinians Muslims their inherent human rights and equality.

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