Trump To Recognize Jerusalem As Israeli Capital, Breaking Decades Of U.S. Neutrality
A foolish, and potentially dangerous, decision by President Trump.
Breaking decades of U.S. foreign policy consistency, President Trump is expected to announce later today that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but will not move the U.S. Embassy as he had promised during the Presidential campaign:
WASHINGTON — President Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American Embassy there, upending nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and potentially destroying his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr. Trump’s decision, a high-risk foray into the thicket of the Middle East, was driven not by diplomatic calculations but by a campaign promise. He appealed to evangelicals and ardently pro-Israel American Jews in 2016 by vowing to move the embassy, and advisers said on Tuesday he was determined to make good on his word.
But the president, faced with a deadline of this past Monday to make that decision, still plans to sign a national security waiver to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for an additional six months, even as he set in motion a plan to move it to Jerusalem. Officials said the process would take several years.
More significantly, Mr. Trump is to announce his formal recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in a formal speech at the White House on Wednesday, when he will become the first American president to take that step since the founding of Israel in 1948.
Mr. Trump spent Tuesday morning explaining the policy change in telephone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel; Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president; and to Arab leaders who warned him that it would disrupt the peace process, perhaps fatally, and could unleash a new wave of violence across the region.
“Moving the U.S. embassy is a dangerous step that provokes the feelings of Muslims around the world,” King Salman of Saudi Arabia told Mr. Trump in their call, according to Saudi state television.
Late on Tuesday, Palestinian national and Islamic groups issued a joint statement calling for three days of “popular anger” to protest Mr. Trump’s move, beginning on Wednesday throughout the Palestinian territories and in demonstrations at United States embassies and consulates around the world.
Fearing attacks, the American consulate in Jerusalem barred employees and family members from going to the Old City or the West Bank, while the State Department urged embassies around the world to tighten their security.
Jerusalem is one of the world’s most fiercely contested swaths of real estate, with both sides disputing each other’s claims. West Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government, but the Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and most of the world considers it occupied territory. Jerusalem’s Old City has the third-holiest mosque in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism, making the city’s status a sensitive issue for Muslims and Jews worldwide alike.
Mr. Trump’s decision drew applause from some in Israel and the United States, even if Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli government were studiously silent in advance of the president’s speech.
“The U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a positive and important step, particularly amid Palestinian efforts to undermine the historic ties between the Jewish nation and the City of David,” said Amos Yadlin, executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said, “It is high time to move the embassy to Jerusalem.” He added, “Not moving it to Jerusalem for 22 years has not brought us closer to peace.”
White House officials said Mr. Trump remained committed to what he has called the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. The decision, they said, was “recognition of current and historic reality.” They said it could hasten, rather than impede, peace negotiations by removing a source of ambiguity from the American position.
Mr. Trump, officials said, would make clear that the United States is not taking a position on whether, or how, Jerusalem is divided between Israel and the Palestinians. He will also not take a position on a disputed area of the Old City, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, which has been a flash point for tensions.
But even with those caveats, Mr. Trump’s decision seems likely to disrupt, if not dissolve, the peace effort. Administration officials said they expected the Palestinians to walk away from the process, at least for now. The White House is girding itself for an eruption of violence, coordinating plans with several agencies to protect American citizens abroad.
“You can finesse this all you want, but Jerusalem doesn’t allow for any finesse,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel. “They can try to limit the damage all they want, but they won’t be able to, because Jerusalem is such a hot-button issue.”
Reaction to Mr. Trump’s move in the Arab world was swift and negative, even from normally friendly leaders.
King Abdullah II of Jordan strongly cautioned against the move, “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” according to a statement from the royal palace in Amman. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the custodian of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
“King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” the statement said.
Few details of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abbas were released, but a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization said the call had given shape to the worst fears of Palestinians.
“It’s very serious,” said the P.L.O. spokesman, Xavier Abu Eid. “Things look very bad.” The Palestinian news agency, WAFA, quoted Mr. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as saying that Mr. Abbas will continue his contacts with world leaders to prevent such “unacceptable action.”
Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, noted some of the dangers that this decision holds for the future:
The risk of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not that it will derail the peace process as there is no peace process w any real prospects. The risk is that it will increase tensions & lead to violence at a time there is more than enough tension & violence in the world
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) December 6, 2017
In the long run, the diplomatic effects of this could be huge. It’s not clear how Trump’s announcement fits into a broader diplomatic strategy in the region, including the president’s vague promises that he’s going to secure the ultimate deal between Israelis and Palestinians. “This is almost like stepping on a landmine,” said Shalom Lipner, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who previously served in the prime minister’s office in Israel. “To the extent that people think there is a realistic chance of some sort of [peace] process, they’re much more concerned that this will set back negotiations.”
Others don’t believe a deal is possible, or even actively hope America’s announcement will derail any further negotiations. “I wish for my children that this is true,” said King. “If Palestinians would get a state for themselves, it would be the biggest punishment for the Western world, the entire world.” For him, U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a fulfillment of the messianic promise of the Hebrew Bible: “In the time before messiah will come, most nations will accept us as Jews returning us to our holy city … like the United States wants to do now.”
At best, said Yehudah Mirsky, an associate professor at Brandeis University who previously served in the Clinton administration and lived in Israel, this move will be a tangible affirmation of the United States’ support for Israel. “People have a hard time understanding why Israelis feel as insecure as they do, given Israel’s military prowess,” he said. “Israel is the only country in the world whose right to exist is talked about. This continuing charade of not recognizing the city it regards as its capital makes lots of rank-and-file Israelis feel like the deck is stacked against them.” Day-to-day life in the city might not change, he said, but “anything that lessens people’s sense of defensiveness here, and gives them a greater sense of self-confidence in their own future, is helpful.”
Like everything with Jerusalem, however, perceptions of whether that comfort is good vary widely. For the United States to declare Jerusalem the united capital of Israel doesn’t make it so. Trump’s announcement will “lead the Israeli public, including those who are in Jerusalem, deeper into clinical denial, or ‘occupation denial,'” Seidemann said, adding: “We’re sipping cappuccino on the edge of a volcano.”
Trump’s move will constitute a break with long-standing American foreign policy that has kept the country neutral on the question of the final status of Jerusalem until the issue has been resolved by the Israelis and Palestinians. Regardless of the occupant, the White House has generally taken the position that the establishment of diplomatic relations and location(s) of embassies and consulates is an exclusively Presidential power under the Constitution. That position has been in place since Israel took control of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967 and has been recognized by every American President since then even at the same time that, as candidates, each of these Presidents had made promises that they would recognize the city as Israel’s capital and move the embassy. The issue came to a head during the Clinton Administration when Congress passed a law in 1995 that mandated that the President both recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy there. President Clinton objected to the law and the ground that it interfered with the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy, but the bill became law pursuant to Article 1, Section 7, Clause 2 of the Constitution. Most importantly, the law includes provisions that authorize a Presidential waiver of the requirement to move the embassy based on national security concerns, something that every President since Bil Clinton has done every six months on a regular basis. In the early days of Trump’s Presidency, there were signals that the Administration would be announcing the moving of the embassy very shortly after Inauguration Day. Ultimately, that move never happened and President Trump himself signed the waiver in June of this year and will sign it again this month notwithstanding the fact that he will make the announcement regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
While Trump’s announcement falls short of completely fulfilling the campaign promise that he and every other Republican running for President in 2016 made to actually move the U.S. Embassy in accordance with the law enacted by Congress in 1995, it is nonetheless likely to be disruptive in the region and to make any more toward a revived peace process less likely. As noted, Palestinian leaders are already calling for demonstrations against the move. Even before the President speaks later this morning, there have already been protests in the West Bank and elsewhere, and there are likely to be more such protests in the area on Friday after the traditional Muslim prayers. Even in advance of the announcement, Trump’s decision is being criticized. British Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, said during Question Time in Parliament that it remains the United Kingdom’s decision that the final status of Jerusalem should be resolved by the peace process not by outside intervention. May also said that she plans to “confront” Trump about his decision. Pope Francis, meanwhile, has released a statement voicing “deep concern” over the President’s decision and the impact it could have on any prospect for a Middle East peace process. Additionally, even longtime American allies in the Arab world since as Saudi Arabia and Jordan warned the Trump Administration against taking even this limited step due to the fact that it makes it far less likely that a peace process that has been essentially dormant for at least a decade will be revived anytime soon. Additionally, the prospect that it could lead to violence and perhaps even attacks on American targets elsewhere in the Middle East is just one of the reasons why this is a bad idea that will set back the peace process and make a region of the world that is already rife with danger
This decision strikes me as being utterly foolish, ill-advised, and potentially dangerously counterproductive. There is no purpose to Trump’s announcement other than pleasing the conservative base of the Republican Party, for whom this seems to be more important than it is for Jewish-Americans or even many Israelis. In addition to the issue of settlement expansion, the final status of Jerusalem remains one of the most difficult issues yet to be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians and taking the step of formally recognizing the city as Israel’s capital constitutes a major step by the U.S. that would appear to send the message to Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world that the U.S. could not serve as any kind of an impartial arbiter or go-between in getting any negotiations restarted. Additionally, Hamas and other radical Palestinians group have made clear that a move such as this could put Americans in danger. For the more than forty years, it has been U.S. policy that taking any position on the final status of Jerusalem would not be in our national interests, would not advance the peace process, and could potentially make any peace deal even less like likely than it already is at the moment. While Trump with avoid taking the step of moving the embassy at this point, such a move is in the end really just symbolic. This announcement is the far more important issue, and it risks making a dangerous situation even more precarious. In other words, it is another example of Trump foreign policy that is foolish, ill-considered, ill-informed, and potentially dangerous. it will do nothing to advance the peace process and indeed will likely make it more difficult for the United States to do anything to encourage the parties to come to the table and negotiate. It is also potentially dangerous for the United States and the region as a whole, which is why it is being criticized by our allies in Europe as well as the leadership in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. In other words, it’s patented Trumpidian stupidity that is not going to accomplish anything except pander to the President’s “conservative” base.
Update: Trump made his announcement official this afternoon, and it apparently does include a decision to move the embassy, although that process will take years:
President Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, defying warnings from other Mideast countries and some U.S. allies in a politically risky move that he insisted would not derail his administration’s efforts to broker a peace deal.
In a midday speech at the White House, Trump defended his decision as “long overdue” and argued that a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians has remained elusive for more than two decades even as his predecessors declined to recognize the contested city as Israel’s capital.
“Some say they lacked courage, but they made the best judgment based on the facts as they understood them,” Trump said, speaking in the Diplomatic Reception Room. “Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades, we’re no closer to a lasting peace agreement.”
Trump added that “it’s folly to assume that repeating the exactly the same formula will produce a different or better result.”
The announcement came a day after senior White House aides previewed Trump’s decision, and the president also ordered the State Department to begin planning to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a process that administration officials said would take years.
“The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides,’ Trump said. “I intend to do everything in my power to forge such an agreement.”
Trump’s decision was hailed in Israel. The Jerusalem municipality announced ahead of Trump’s speech that it would illuminate the ancient walls of Jerusalem Old City with an Israeli and an American flag, “as a token of appreciation to President Trump for his recognition of Jerusalem.” The city said that American flags would be hung on the streets surrounding the U.S. consulate.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that “the expected announcement by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a historic declaration that sends a clear message to the entire world that the U.S. stands with the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Jerusalem.”
This decision is, as I stated above, beyond stupid, completely unnecessary, and potentially dangerous. It is not in the national interests of the United States and is being made by the President merely to fulfill a promise to the far right. Now, we just have to wait and see what happens and hope that things won’t get violent again.