As long as the sides cannot decide on a mutually agreeable plan for sharing sovereignty in Jerusalem, . . . [and as long as] the world community [has not] concluded that it must impose a solution on the sides — it would be highly improbable for any individual state to unilaterally give official recognition to Jerusalem as its capital. Any individual state, that is, not led by Donald J. Trump.
Jerusalem is holy to three religions. Jerusalem is a powder keg, and the smallest wrong move there could set off a religious war. The Arab-Israeli conflict will never be solved until the Jerusalem question is resolved.
Yes, these are all truisms, and you’ve heard them a thousand times or more. But there’s a reason why the root of the word “truism” is “true.” For Jews, Jerusalem is where their Temple — the home of their one god — stood, in its various incarnations. Each time they were exiled from their cultic and political capital in ancient times, they dreamed of returning, and the term “Zion,” the name of one of the city’s hills, became a metonymy not only for the city itself, but for the Land of Israel in general, and the basis of the name of the modern movement calling for establishment of a Jewish state there.
So, why don’t the nearly 160 countries that have diplomatic relations with the State of Israel recognize Jerusalem as its capital, and why is the possibility that the United States may do just that now, nearly seven decades after Israel’s establishment, a source of such apprehension worldwide?
It is now hard to see how a sustainable Palestinian-Israeli agreement is possible. True to Trump form, this is an entirely self-inflicted wound that will long echo in the annals of diplomacy. It will further diminish the already reduced standing of the US, complicating relations with allies, with Muslims and Arabs — and with people of common sense the world over.
Every time it seems Donald Trump cannot outdo himself, he does it again. Now he has announced that his administration will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing nearly seven decades of American policy. This step will have multiple negative ramifications, many impossible to predict.
Jerusalem is the most important of the so-called final status issues that have been repeatedly deferred during the Israel-Palestine negotiations because of their extreme sensitivity. Trump has plowed into this imbroglio like a bull in a china shop, zeroing in on the most complex and emotional issue of all those connected to Palestine.
Here comes Trump, oblivious to precedent and indeed history — even in a place where history is a matter of life and death — stomping through this delicate thicket, trampling over every sensitivity. The risk is obvious, with every Arab government — including those loyal to Washington — now issuing sharp warnings on the perils of this move, almost all of them using the same word: “dangerous.”
Not content with taking the US to the brink of nuclear conflict with North Korea, Donald Trump is now set to apply his strategy of international vandalism to perhaps the most sensitive geopolitical hotspot in the world. With a speech scheduled for later today that’s expected to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and reaffirm a pledge to move the US embassy to the city, he is walking into a bone-dry forest with a naked flame.
For the status of Jerusalem is the most intractable issue in what is often described as the world’s most intractable conflict. It is the issue that has foiled multiple efforts at peacemaking over several decades. Both Israelis and Palestinians insist that Jerusalem must be the capital of their states, present and future, and that that status is non-negotiable.
Q&A: Why would moving the US embassy to Jerusalem be so contentious?
Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, none is as sensitive as the status of Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades. Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s boundaries and annexed it — an act that was never recognized internationally. Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy places, as its “united and eternal” capital. For their part, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. The unequivocal international view, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations. Any move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would put the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimize Israeli settlement-building in the east considered illegal under international law.
Donald Trump has defied overwhelming global opposition by declaring US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but insisted that the highly controversial move would not derail his own administration’s bid to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In remarks delivered in the diplomatic reception room of the White House, Trump called his decision “a long overdue” step to advance the peace process.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
“Paradoxically, [early Zionist immigrants] recoiled from Jerusalem, particularly the Old City — first because Jerusalem was regarded as a symbol of the diaspora, and second because the holy sites to Christianity and Islam were seen as complications that would not enable the creation of a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
— Amnon Ramon, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research
In December 1917 — 100 years ago this month — the British general Edmund Allenby seized control of Jerusalem from its Ottoman Turkish defenders. Dismounting his horse, he entered the Old City on foot, through Jaffa Gate, out of respect for its holy status.
In the century since, Jerusalem has been fought over in varying ways, not only by Jews, Christians and Muslims but also by external powers and, of course, modern-day Israelis and Palestinians.
It is perhaps fitting that President Trump appears to have chosen this week to announce that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite concerns from leaders of Arab countries, Turkey and even close allies like France.
Conflicts over Jerusalem go back thousands of years — including biblical times, the Roman Empire and the Crusades — but the current one is a distinctly 20th-century story, with roots in colonialism, nationalism and anti-Semitism.
Major print media coverage in anticipation of Trump’s announcement.
The New York Times:
“We believe that any action that would undermine these efforts must absolutely be avoided. A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as a future capital of both states.”
— Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Most important will be the language Trump uses in his announcement. If he repeats the Israeli line that Jerusalem is the “undivided” capital of Israel, Trump will run the risk of angering Palestinians who will view that as proof that the United States does not support their push for statehood.
“A better prepared, less clumsy process could have produced an announcement to actually move the embassy to Jerusalem, which is where it belongs. Instead the president is leaving us half-pregnant. Israelis deserve to have their capital recognized and our embassy located there. Palestinians need to know that the capital of their state will be in East Jerusalem. Instead of being clear on both of these points, the President has chosen a purely rhetorical approach, changing nothing on the ground, but spinning up significant controversy for virtually no gain.”
— Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel
“Pushing this issue now, in advance of a peace process at a time when the administration has zero credibility on this issue, at a time when it wants to engage the Saudis, makes absolutely no sense. It’s a self-inflicted wound.”
— Aaron David Miller, former Mideast peace negotiator under past Republican and Democratic administrations
There were warnings of a new Palestinian uprising and calls for protests at United States embassies, dire predictions that hopes for peace would be dashed irretrievably — and expressions of relief from Israelis who have waited a half-century for the world to remove the asterisk next to this city’s name.
Yet on the whole, the responses in the region to reports that President Trump will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — something no president has done in the nearly 70 years since Israel’s founding — remained hedged, if not entirely restrained, on Saturday. Arabs and Israelis alike were impatient to see whether Mr. Trump would really do it, precisely how he would define Jerusalem, and what else he might say or do to qualify the change.
Mr. Trump’s announcement, expected in a speech on Wednesday, would amount to the not-quite fulfillment of a campaign promise to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a step for which many of Mr. Trump’s Jewish and evangelical supporters, and their allies in the Israeli right wing, have been clamoring.
The “let’s make a deal” approach assumes that each negotiating party has a series of material things that can be traded off. In this approach, both sides understand they will be better off with more than they currently have. But that doesn’t apply to a place like Jerusalem, or to conflicts like it.
President-elect Donald Trump has set the foreign policymaking world on edge with his and his team’s repeated insistence that as president he will move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The goal: support Israel’s claim to the city as its “undivided, eternal capital.” By nominating David Friedman — who agrees with that position — to be ambassador to Israel, Trump apparently emphasizes this commitment.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resisted resolution for decades. But Trump has insisted that “a deal is a deal” and that because he is “a negotiator,” he will be successful where others were not. In this case, presumably Trump plans to offer the Palestinians compensation to accept Israel’s claims to Jerusalem.