Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement Demonstrates Yet Again The Art Of The Bad Deal

Donald Trump's Jerusalem decision reveals yet again that he is an appallingly bad deal maker.


Not surprisingly, yesterday’s announcement by President Trump regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the eventual move of the American embassy to that city from its current location in Tel Aviv has led to widespread protests in the West Bank and elsewhere with promises of further protests tomorrow after Friday prayers. The announcement has also led to widespread criticism from around the world from American allies in Europe and elsewhere and from international organizations, many of whom have pointed out that Trump’s announcement upsets the already delicate balance in the Middle East and makes any solution to the ongoing disputes between Israel and the Palestinians even less likely than it already was. Additionally, as Thomas Friedman notes in today’s New York Times, the announcement was yet another instance of Trump failing to make a deal that actually could have accomplished something:

Let’s start with Israel, every Israeli government since its founding has craved United States recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. And every United States government has refrained from doing that, arguing that such a recognition should come only in the wake of an agreed final status peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians — until now.

Today, Trump just gave it away — for free. Such a deal! Why in the world would you just give this away for free and not even use it as a lever to advance the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian deal?

Trump could have said two things to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. First, he could have said: “Bibi, you keep asking me to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. O.K., I will do that. But I want a deal. Here’s what I want from you in return: You will declare an end to all Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, outside of the existing settlement bloc that everyone expects to be part of Israel in any two-state solution.”

Such a trade-off is needed. It would produce a real advance for United States interests and for the peace process. As Dennis Ross, the veteran American Middle East peace negotiator and author of “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israeli Relationship From Truman to Obama,” explained: “When you stop building outside the settlement blocs, you preserve, at a maximum, the possibility of a two-state outcome and, at a minimum, the ability for Israelis to separate from Palestinians. Keep up the building in densely populated Palestinian areas and separation becomes impossible.”

Trump also could have said, as the former United States ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk suggested, that he’d decided “to begin the process of moving the embassy to western Jerusalem, but at the same time was declaring his willingness to make a parallel announcement that he would establish an embassy to the state of Palestine in East Jerusalem” — as part of any final status agreement. That would at least have insulated us from looking like we made a one-sided gesture that will only complicate peacemaking and kept the door open to Palestinians.

In either case, Trump could then have boasted to Israelis and Palestinians that he got them each something that Barack Obama never did — something that advanced the peace process and United States credibility and did not embarrass our Arab allies. But Trump is a chump. And he is a chump because he is ignorant and thinks the world started the day he was elected, and so he is easily gamed.


Trump is susceptible to such giveaways, not only because he is ignorant, but because he does not see himself as the president of the United States. He sees himself as the president of his base. And because that’s the only support he has left, he feels the need to keep feeding his base by fulfilling crude, ill-conceived promises he threw out to them during the campaign. Today, again, he put another one of those promises ahead of United States’ national interest.

As Friedman notes, this isn’t the first example of Trump’s much-vaunted deal-making skills showing themselves to be much less than be desired. Earlier this year, for example, Trump fulfilled yet another of his campaign promises just days after assuming the Presidency when he announced that the United States was pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As Friedman notes, the only party that really benefited from the United States abandoning TPP were the Chinese, for whom the agreement between the United States and a widespread group of Pacific nations would have been a serious competitor in the trade area, and yet he announced the deal without first even attempting to get any concessions on the trade issue from China. Now Trump is trying to negotiate with China on trade on a bilateral basis and finding, not surprisingly, that reaching a “good deal” is harder than he probably expected. Had he not given away the crown jewel of the potential of the TPP with the United States, Trump arguably would have been in a much better bargaining position than he is today and potentially could have even negotiated a TPP that included China and benefited everyone in ways that will no longer be possible.

On the domestic side, Trump demonstrated the art of the bad deal in August when he negotiated a short-term spending deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that basically gave Democrats everything they wanted and, as we’re seeing this month, placed Republicans on Capitol Hill in a position where they are clamoring to put together a spending bill that will avoid a government shutdown and the political blame that would no doubt come with that.

Daniel Larison offers further criticism of Trump’s announcement:

What Trump did today won’t advance “the peace process.” There may not be much of a process to be advanced in any case, but this definitely snuffs it out for the foreseeable future. There will be no “work towards a lasting agreement” when a major power unilaterally decides to break with its existing policy and severely disadvantages one of the parties in any future negotiations. If one wanted to destroy confidence and trust in the U.S., this is the sort of thing one would do.

Trump describes what he did as proof of his “fresh thinking,” but there is nothing more stale and tired than having our government fully taking the Israeli side in this conflict. He can insist all he likes that the decision “is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement,” but the action proves that there is no such commitment. It will be interpreted as proof of our government’s bias and bad faith, and it is ridiculous to expect other nations to interpret it any other way.

The best that can be said about Trump’s remarks is that he has to be delusional if he thinks that today’s announcement is compatible with making progress in securing a negotiated settlement. Any goodwill the Trump administration might have enjoyed with the Palestinians has been squandered for no reason, and Trump has now made it politically impossible for any Palestinian leader to be seen cooperating with the U.S.

As I noted yesterday, Trump’s announcement demonstrates that he does not care about the Palestinians, nor does he particularly care about any kind of real Middle East peace process. Putting the weight of the United States behind the Israeli claim to all of Jerusalem as their capital and moving the United States Embassy there, and thus effectively reversing forty years of American foreign policy, does nothing to advance the peace process and serves only to appease the far-right wing of the Republican Party in the United States and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, who is presently facing internal political pressure over scandals involging his office and, specifically, his wife that have led to widespread and ongoing investigations and increased speculation over whether or not he can survive politically. Beyond that, it accomplishes nothing and arguably makes the situation in the Middle East even worse than it already is, as the events that have occurred since Trump’s announcement and seem likely to unfold in the days to come, are already starting to confirm.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Paul Hooson says:

    I’m Jewish, but I see no end to problems that this creates with Palestinians as well as Muslims. The Wailing Wall stands as a sad monument of what once and should always be the Jewish capital, although for the sake of relative peace, this city of Jerusalem has been shared.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    It’s a provocation with zero potential upside and considerable downside risk. It leaves Iran leading the rejectionists, which strengthens Hezbollah and Hamas, while giving enemies of MSB a new cudgel. And by erasing whatever was left of the notion that the US is a fair broker, cedes still more ground to Russia.

    Fascinating how often Trump’s moves strengthen Russia and weaken the US. Thanks to Trump we have now taken sides in the Sunni-Shi’ite feud, increasing the odds of war with Iran – a war that would have an excellent chance of weakening or ‘allies’ the Saudis and strengthening the Iranian regime. All to the good for Alawite/Shi’ite ally, Putin.

    Similarly our seeming rush to war with North Korea would be a gift to the Russians who would profit from the inevitable subsequent loss of American power and prestige in the Far East.

    Ditto Trump’s undermining of NATO and the damage he’s done to the Special Relationship.

    Ditto his refusal to enforce sanctions against Russia.

    As has been the case from Day 1 when Mike Flynn was busily selling American foreign policy to the highest bidder, the one consistent outcome has been to strengthen Russia and weaken the United States and its allies.

    This is not to overlook Trump’s servility to China. He traded away the accusation that China was a money manipulator in exchange for Chinese acquiescence in some branding issues for the Trump business. And by exiting the TPP he left China in control of Far East trade. All that’s needed now is for Russia to join the TPP.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    If, as seems likely, this is driven by Evangelical end o’ days nonsense and donors, Shelly Adelson got a heck of a deal for his 35 million.

  4. SenyorDave says:

    The Art of the Deal, give away all your leverage and get nothing in return. Substitute Trump for Homer:

    Marge: Do you think you can get the dental plan back?
    Homer: Well, that depends on who’s a better negotiator– Mr. Burns or me.
    Bart: Dad, I’ll trade you this delicious doorstop for your crummy old Danish.
    Homer: Done and done!
    Bart: [ Laughing ]
    Homer: D’oh!

  5. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Denture-Don is being taken to school by Russia, China, N. Korea, Iran…everyone he tries to make a deal with, or about. It’s pretty clear why he has been bankrupt so many times.
    What’s not clear is why the sycophants think he’s such a genius????

  6. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @ Harvard Law…
    Re: your comment on the coming intifada from a previous thread…

    As people took to the streets, the leader of Hamas called for an uprising by Palestinians. “Tomorrow should be a day of rage and the beginning of a broad movement for an uprising that I call the intifada of freedom of Jerusalem,” Ismail Haniyeh said.

  7. CSK says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    They believe he’s playing 64-dimensional chess, pursuing a strategy us non-Trumpkins are far too dull-witted to comprehend.

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    GAZA, Dec 7 (Reuters) – A senior Palestinian official in President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah party said on Thursday that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, due to visit the region later this month, “is unwelcome in Palestine.”
    “In the name of Fatah I say that we will not welcome Trump’s deputy in the Palestinian Territories. He asked to meet (Abbas) on the 19th of this month in Bethlehem, such a meeting will not take place,” Jibril Rajoub said.

    So much for advancing the peace process….

  9. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    President Trump did not completely grasp the ramifications of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, several advisers told The Washington Post.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    We’ve been down this road before, so sadly we know what to expect from a lunatic move like this.

    I’d say that Trump’s too stupid to understand the lasting, probably irrevocable damage that he just did to the Middle East, but I doubt that he cares.

  11. MBunge says:

    Paul Krugman in the New York Times the night of the 2016 election:

    “It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging. When might we expect them to recover?

    Frankly, I find it hard to care much, even though this is my specialty. The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear.

    Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.”

    And that was a guy who actually knows something about economics. What do you all know about the Middle East?


  12. TM01 says:

    Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

    Who the frak are all you people to tell a sovereign nation otherwise?

    Let’s try this tho…Hey Abbas, you officially recognize the state of Israel and sit down and really talk peace or I recognize their capital.
    Abbas: You are bluffing just like every President before you, you filthy dog.
    Trump: Today I officially recognize the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

    Always with you people it’s the Jews who need to give something up.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @TM01: The problem is EAST JERUSALEM, mister.

    Last time I saw a map of Israel, East Jerusalem wasn’t considered part of Israel.

    Oh well, go ahead, confiscate all the land you want. Pretend it’s always been yours. Then whine because of the aftereffects.

  14. Sleeping Dog says:

    There was a report earlier in the week that Kushner and bin Salman are cooking up a 2 state solution that gives all to Israel and sells out the Palestinians. The purported goal to buy Israel’s support in a pivot to oppose Iran.

    Didn’t the defense department finally admit that we don’t have the capability to fight two major wars concurrently? North Korea and Iran, wow.

  15. michael reynolds says:


    You worship a man who both did and did not say, “Grab ’em by the pussy.” Who are you to question anyone?

  16. Tyrell says:

    The current location of the capital, while not perfect, seems to have worked.
    Jewish church officials are said to be close to starting construction on the new temple. This will be a major event with important religious and political implications. I wonder what effects that will have on the mid east situation.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Always with you people it’s the Jews who need to give something up.

    Thank you for your concern trolling, but worry about yourself. The last thing we need is patronizing Gentiles thinking that they have to fight our battles for us.

    Jerusalem has been a never ending hotbed of factionalized warfare for thousands of years precisely because of religion. The only way to truthfully solve the problem is to bulldoze it to the ground and haul away every last rock until there aren’t any more rocks there left to fight over. Replace it with a parking lot if you can’t share it.

    But throwing in your lot with one side to the detriment of the other says 1) you can’t be trusted as an honest broker and 2) just ensures that the fighting will begin again.

    Perhaps you’re one of those religious nuts who believes that to be a good thing. I’m not.

  18. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Said by whom? Baptists?

    Those of us who aren’t Orthodox recognize that any such attempt would be the spark that would plunge the entire region into outright warfare. Heck, man, all it took to set off the Second Intifada was Sharon having the temerity to visit Temple Mount.

    And the Orthodox? They generally reject the idea out of hand, primarily because any such temple would have to be built exactly where the previous ones stood, and such a determination is impossible to make without prophetic intervention.

    We won’t even get into the two 1,300 year old structures – al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, a World Heritage site – which would have to be demolished to make way for a Third Temple (if you think that the Arabs were upset about Sharon showing up, you can guess how they’d react to that set of events).

    You have a better chance of being named Queen of Romania. It’s just never going to happen.

  19. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


    What do you all know about the Middle East?

    What do you know about child molestation?
    Oh…apparently you enjoy it enough that you choose to support it.

  20. CET says:


    Yea…about the markets. I think we all underestimated just how much of a difference it would make when Fox News and the WSJ went from day after day of ‘the end times are upon us, hoard your money, buy gold’ to ‘Everything is great!’. As far as I can tell, Trump has been great for the economy because half the country suddenly decided the economy was great again.

    I’ll be curious to see if the tax bill leads to another surge in equities or if that was priced in on November 9. I’ll be even more curious to see what happens when this delusional bull market comes to an abrupt and catastrophic end….

  21. CET says:

    Trump’s much-vaunted deal-making skills

    At the risk of revealing my cultural illiteracy, exactly what evidence has there been that Trump is a phenomenal businessman or deal-maker? I know he played one on TV, but that’s like Martin Sheen claiming to be a great politician because of his role on The West Wing.

    I gather Trump sort-of has a real estate business that’s been around for a while, and that so hugely successful that he won’t release information about how successful it is…

    But, I guess it’s been a year and I still can’t figure out why the hell half the country voted for him, so maybe it’s just me.

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @grumpy realist:

    @TM01: The problem is EAST JERUSALEM, mister.
    Last time I saw a map of Israel, East Jerusalem wasn’t considered part of Israel.


    In America, there’s a perpetual undercurrent of irrationality when it comes to Israel and Jerusalem.

    Many evangelicals are down with Trump on this, not because of any abiding love of Israel and Jews, but because they need Israel to be around for the End Of Days, at which time everyone but Christian evangelicals and like minded-believers will make it, and all others will be vaporized.