On Dec. 6, President Donald Trump defied foreign leaders and domestic advisors alike. Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced his intentions to relocate the United States Embassy to Jerusalem.
The move was rash and uncalculated; it alienated neighbors, reignited already high tensions, and discredited American impartiality in Arab-Israeli negotiations.
Trump’s statement immediately prompted international outcry. A United Nations General Assembly vote condemned the action by wide margins of 128-9, even in the face of threats issued by United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley that America would “remember” the rebuke.
The United Nations General Assembly’s vote indicates a sweeping repudiation of Trump’s statement. It is foolhardy for the President to engage in activities that drive a wedge between America and its allies.
The Trump administration’s plan is to renovate and then move the American embassy into a U.S. West Jerusalem consular facility as early as next year.
Middle Eastern tensions surrounding Israel already run high. Rather than calming the turmoil, Trump fanned the flames. Many Palestinians are already suspicious of American involvement in peace talks. Trump’s remarks validated this distrust and solidified anti-American sentiment in the region. What is needed is peaceful mediation, not side-taking or provocation.
Thousands of Palestinians responded to the announcement with protests. Terrorist organization Hamas issued a call for a third Intifada, while the Palestinian Fatah, affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, announced the start of three days of rage. Dozens were injured in subsequent standoffs with the Israeli police.
Jerusalem’s history is complicated. Western Jerusalem became part of Israel in 1948, but the eastern part of the city was only liberated or captured (depending on who one asks) in 1967.
Jerusalem has long been a disputed territory; three of the world’s most prominent religions consider it integral to their faith. Jews see Jerusalem as a holy city where God spoke to Abraham, the first Jew. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven in Jerusalem. For Christians, Jerusalem is the site at which Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
In 1995, Congress passed The Jerusalem Embassy Act, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The act called for Jerusalem to be undivided and for the US Embassy to relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Subsequently, however, presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump all signed six-month rolling waivers to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, citing national security concerns.
Indeed, Trump himself signed another six-month delay waiver the very day on which he announced U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
According to “The New York Times,” Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy was designed to placate billionaire Sheldon Adelson (who gave Trump’s presidential campaign $20 million), as well as evangelicals and other significant donors.
Trump’s declaration indicates that the President is more concerned with campaign promises and impressing his donors than he is in taking real action or promoting conflict resolution for unrest in the Middle East.
Trump has exploited the instability of the Middle East to satisfy campaign promises and curry favor with his donors. The ensuing inflammation of a tense region and discreditation of America on an international level demonstrate the recklessness of the president’s move.