The president's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is a propaganda gift to Turkey, Iran—and Hamasby Azriel Bermant / December 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
After the Reagan administration took a soft line on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, Margaret Thatcher scrawled in pen on a diplomatic cable received from Washington: “The US just does not realise the resentment she is causing in the Middle East.” Thatcher feared that extremist forces such as the Soviet Union would make maximum gains in the Arab world from the missteps of the Israelis and Americans.
It is the same story today. British Prime Minister Theresa May has condemned Trump’s recent decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “unhelpful” for peace. The president has also said that he is directing the US State Department to prepare for moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
But why all the fuss? After all, for three millennia, Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Jewish faith. And from Israel’s perspective, the city has been the capital since 1949. Israel’s Knesset, its Supreme Court and government ministries are located there. Foreign heads of state, politicians and diplomats meet there with their Israeli counterparts. The problem is that Israel also claims east Jerusalem (which it captured in the 1967 war) as part of its capital, which the Palestinians claim for themselves. Trump is riding roughshod over decades of US policy which has cautiously refrained from supporting this position, out of awareness of the sensitivity around Jerusalem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump went ahead with his announcement because he wanted to keep a promise made prior to the election. As an anti-politician, Trump wants to prove that he stays true to his pledges, no matter the consequences. The lack of progress on many of his other promises will have made him even more determined on this one.
But this latest move is deeply misguided. In part, it is a question of phrasing and statecraft. Had the president declared that the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as part of the endgame of a two-state solution, this would have been a welcome and constructive move—however unlikely that solution seems at the moment.