Trump roils Middle East with Jerusalem declaration
U.S. embassies around the world were on heightened alert this week after President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the State Department to start preparations to relocate the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv—an inflammatory move that broke with decades of international consensus. Home to some of the holiest sites in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel considers the city its “eternal and undivided” capital, while Palestinians regard Arab-majority East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Previous U.S. presidents have said that Jerusalem’s status should be determined as part of an overall peace deal. But Trump, fulfilling a campaign pledge, said that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.” The president insisted that his announcement did not predetermine Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, and declared his support for a two-state solution. “Above all,” he said, “our greatest hope is for peace.”
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s “courageous” decision, Arab and European leaders reacted with fury and concern—warning it could spark a wave of violence. Palestinians burned effigies of Trump in the West Bank, and in Gaza the Islamist group Hamas called for three “days of rage.” Trump’s declaration came as his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, pursues a peace initiative reportedly crafted with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Palestinian diplomat Manuel Hassassian said Trump’s declaration amounted to a “kiss of death” for that effort.
What the columnists said
Trump’s declaration simply adds “fuel to the fire” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Jonah Shepp in NYMag.com. The unilateral move is as provocative as it is baffling: It could seriously destabilize the region and further damage U.S. standing in the Middle East, without demanding anything of substance in return from Israel. Most significantly, Trump’s decision to shunt Palestinian interests aside will “scuttle any chance of his administration being seen as an honest broker in peace talks.”
“All of these concerns are overwrought,” said Michael Rubin in WashingtonExaminer.com. Israel’s legislature is in Jerusalem. “So too are most of its ministries and the residence of both the prime minister and president.” For all intents and purposes, Jerusalem is already “the true capital of Israel.” Any prohibition on placing an embassy there is “based more on a rejection of the idea of Israel as a normal state than on any legal and practical reasoning.”
But why take this risky, yet largely symbolic, step now? asked Daniel Larison in TheAmericanConservative.com. Perhaps Trump was motivated by his long-running instinct to shake things up, or his desire to do the opposite of former President Obama, who many thought was “too ‘tough’ on Israel.” More likely, with his approval rating slumping, Trump acted out of his insatiable “desire for praise and flattery.” Trump has made one of the most potentially costly Middle East blunders in decades, simply so the hard-line evangelicals and right-wing, pro-Israel activists that are part of his base “will congratulate him.”