President Trump is reportedly ready, according to senior U.S. officials, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital immediately, while delaying the U.S. embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months. The president missed the Monday deadline for signing a six-month waiver to a law requiring such relocation and is said to have directed his aides to begin planning for the move. President Trump informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi King Salman of his plans. The reaction from the Palestinians as well as Arab and Muslim leaders in the region was predictably fierce.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said President Trump’s plan to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel is a “red line” for Muslims, which could cause Turkey to break off diplomatic relations with Israel. Jordan, normally an American ally, is coordinating the convening of an emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to “discuss ways of dealing with the consequences of such a decision that raised alarm and concern,” a senior Jordanian diplomatic source told Reuters. Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, warned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that such a decision could “trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts,” according to Jordan’s state news agency.
Abbas warned of “dangerous consequences.” This could include, according to Abbas’s diplomatic adviser, the end of contacts between the Palestinian leadership and the U.S. Last week, Abbas’s office issued a statement declaring that “East Jerusalem is the key to war and peace and any solution must guarantee East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.”
Palestinian leaders have called for “days of rage” in the streets to follow President Trump’s announcement of any changes to the status of Jerusalem they consider inimical to the Palestinians’ claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. The anger they and other Arab and Muslim leaders incite is likely to lead to violence, not only within the West Bank, Gaza and Israel itself, but throughout the Middle East and beyond. U.S. embassies and consulates will be likely targets, with blame for any deaths or injuries no doubt wrongly placed on President Trump rather than on the perpetrators and inciters of the violence where it belongs.
French President Emmanuel Macron has also expressed his opposition to President Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He conveyed “his concern with the possibility that the United States might unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as capital of the State of Israel,” in a phone conversation with President Trump, according to a statement issued by the French government. “Mr. Macron reaffirmed that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”
The French government is falling back on the standard talking point, repeated over and over again by French and other world leaders, that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved as a final status issue in direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Yet France, and much of the so-called “international community,” have vigorously supported United Nations resolutions claiming that East Jerusalem is “occupied Palestinian territory,” as opposed to characterizing it as “disputed territory” subject to direct negotiations between the parties. UN Security Council Resolution 2334’s declaration that any “settlements” in East Jerusalem are illegal would effectively invalidate any residences constructed by Israelis there since June 1967, as well as prohibit the building or expansion of residences, even in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. France supported this resolution, which all but accedes to Abbas’s demand that “any solution must guarantee East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.”
The notion that President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would worsen prospects for a secure and viable peace based on a two-state solution is a canard.
The Palestinians refuse to negotiate in good faith. In fact, they refuse to negotiate at all. They continue to reject all paths to a reasonable compromise on any issue related to the conflict that they created in the first place by not accepting the UN partition resolution’s two-state solution seven decades ago. Even with former President Obama willing to give the Palestinians every benefit of the doubt, the Palestinians refused to budge on any of their core demands. Perhaps President Trump’s moves will force the Palestinians to finally come to terms with some semblance of the reality of their situation and force them to re-evaluate their hardline, rejectionist positions. Then again, to paraphrase Abba Eban who was speaking about the Arabs in general, “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
In any event, President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not such a radical idea. Russia, of all countries, stated last April that “we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” While it did so in the context of also recognizing “the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state,” Russia’s action still provides a precedent that goes beyond the conventional thinking of France and other Western European countries. By declaring the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and proceeding with plans to move the U.S. embassy to West Jerusalem, President Trump would formalize the treatment that the U.S. already extends to Jerusalem as the headquarters of the Israeli government. President Trump can indicate that the U.S. recognizes “Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, without referencing “east” or “west,” while also declaring his intention to move the U.S. embassy specifically to West Jerusalem, which even Abbas has not claimed to be Palestinian territory.
President Trump would be moving in the right direction if he follows through with these steps. However, they are just initial steps. The elephant in the room remains the final status of Jerusalem as a whole. Israel rightfully claims “Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Israel and as a united city which will never again be torn apart.”
Jerusalem was an undivided city until the Jordanians’ illegal occupation in 1948. Historically, Jews have been living in Jerusalem continuously for more than three millennia. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any sovereign nation except of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran. Despite the forced diaspora of most of Jerusalem’s Jewish population after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, Jews have been living continuously in Jerusalem and constituted the largest single group of inhabitants in Jerusalem since at least the mid-1800s. Muslims pray towards Mecca. Jews not living in Jerusalem pray towards Jerusalem. The Palestinians, with the aid of UNESCO and other UN organizations, have tried to literally re-write history to airbrush out any Jewish ties to the holy sites of Jerusalem. President Trump’s moves would help to reverse the tide.
Establishing a so-called “East” Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestine state would codify the Jordanians’ illegal occupation of the eastern portion of Jerusalem, including the Old City, between 1948 and 1967, which Jordan annexed and ruled from its capital, Amman. Jewish homes and sacred places were destroyed or defaced while the Old City remained under Jordanian control. Jews were barred from worshipping at their holiest sites.
Israel took over control of all of Jerusalem following a defensive war against Jordan in 1967. There was never any movement before that to “liberate” Jerusalem for the “Palestinians” from Hashemite Jordanian control. Yet the Palestinians today want to replicate the Jordanian artificial division of Jerusalem for themselves and impose an ethnic and religious cleansing of any Jewish-Israeli residents from what they consider to be their “lands.” Israel is well within its rights to make sure that this never happens again in Judaism’s holiest city, while ensuring that worshipers of all other faiths have access to their holy sites as well.