Last Wednesday, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and directed the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act was passed in 1995, requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, but it is allowed to be delayed every six months by the president signing a waiver. Trump is the first president to initiate the move, ending a decades-long trend of delaying this in the interest of national security and ongoing peace negotiations.
The president’s decision was endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said, “Jewish people and the Jewish state will forever be grateful.”
While the move was supported by many within the White House, there was strong backlash against it due to fears that the hasty decision could destabilize the region and invite extremist activity.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the actions in an announcement, saying, “These procedures do also help in the extremist organizations to wage a religious war that would harm the entire region which is going through critical moments and would lead us into wars that will never end.”
This sentiment was also echoed by the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who thought the decision was “in total contradiction of agreements signed between Palestinians and Israelis,” according to a CNN report.
This is where the heart of the issue falls, as the president has failed to put the interests of the citizens of Jerusalem first, by instead focusing on the accomplishment of fulfilling a promise he made while campaigning.
The history of Jerusalem is a long and complex one, and there is a reason that no president since 1995 has initiated the move of the embassy. It is a significant move, but mostly one that gives bragging rights rather than inspiring actual negotiation.
President Trump believes his decision was necessary since there is no more peace today than there was 20 years ago. However, stagnancy should not be reason enough to make such a change. It seems that making big moves and big deals are more important to the current administration than considering real human experiences.
As for the impact on peace negotiations, Trump explained, “We are not taking a position on any of the final status issues including the final boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem."
What he does not seem to realize is that implicit in this statement is a position on the final status issues. Rather than truly leaving the process up to the Israelis and Palestinians involved, this decision firmly plants a foot in the conversation on behalf of the United States. The support from firmly pro-Israel organizations and Netanyahu is evidence of this.
Trump claims this change is important to “recognize the reality” of the situation in Jerusalem since negotiations often take place in the city, and the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, resides there. But the reality for all the people living in Jerusalem is more complicated than that. There is a long history with different perspectives involved, with deep religious and cultural ties that are not so simple to navigate.
This decision will likely lead to increased tension and real security threats for civilians, but these are not things the White House seems concerned with.