In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, President Donald Trump did the right thing at the wrong time for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.
Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, has been for 3,000 years and should continue to be. It is also a favorite bipartisan political football for American politicians to toss around when trying to score points against their opponents.
That’s what President Trump was doing today as he spoke about the Israeli capital while standing in front of a Christmas decorations on a White House fireplace and carefully reading from Teleprompters .
Any suggestion that this could advance the peace process is fantasy. It is delusional to suggest he is doing this to please his small Jewish constituency. The real audience for his Yuletide message was evangelical Christians, as witnessed by the presence of one of their own, Vice President Mike Pence, standing over the president’s shoulder.
Pence, who had been working with evangelicals in recent days to prepare for this announcement, will be going to the Holy Land later this month to deliver the message of behalf a president who claims – wrongly, of course – he has made it acceptable for all Americans to say “Merry Christmas.”
There is no way that announcing recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plans to relocate the U.S. embassy there – although that is a few years away — can invigorate and advance the peace process, as the president suggested. Just the opposite. The Palestinians see it as evidence he doesn’t plan to be an honest broker. He can’t be when he so obviously pleases one side at the expense of the other.
What’s more, he’s setting them up to take the fall when he fails to deliver the “deal of the century.” Since he is the first to admit he never makes mistakes and is thus eternally blameless for whatever goes wrong, it will have to be the fault of the Palestinians who did not give him many votes or the same warm support he got from his good friend Bibi Netanyahu. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, unlike the enthusiastic Israeli leader, “condemned” Trump’s decision.
Trump sounded like he finally endorsed the two-state approach but in reality he may have been backing away. He said he supports two states, if that’s what the parties themselves want. He know that since Barack Obama left office, Netanyahu has been backing off his 2009 support for two-states and in instead offering a “state-minus,” meaning a non-contiguous entity with very limited sovereignty, no removal of settlements and a strong Israeli security presence.
This decision weakens American leverage over Israel, having delivered on one of the major final status items before any negotiations on the city’s status even began.
Trump’s speech comes almost two years to the day after he refused to tell a group of wealthy Republican Jews that he believed Jerusalem should remain Israel’s undivided capital. Now he’d have us believe he is the Israeli capital’s greatest defender.
What changed his mind? I can think of at least 25 million reasons – donations from Republican Jewish mega-donor Sheldon Adelson are at the top of the list – and millions of evangelical voters.
There are good times to announce recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In the past, when it should have been done and there were no prospective peace negotiations to sabotage, or in the future, when negotiations have concluded, successfully or otherwise.
But not today. Not when his team of amateur diplomats is trying to find the solution that has evaded all others.
Trump’s timing probably has less to do with Middle East peace than it’s made to appear.
That was apparent at the outset. He opened by saying previous presidents may have promised but I delivered. As so often in Trump’s pronouncements, it was about bragging rights at the expense of all who came before him and failed in whatever the topic. I promised, I delivered, whatever the consequences.
It’s not about foreign policy but domestic politics and taking credit. In my 40-plus years in Washington, I’ve watched both parties toss around Jerusalem as a domestic political football to be used and abused in their efforts to score points against the other side so they can show their donors which is the more pro-Israel party.
Jerusalem is also a diversion for a scandal-ridden president with a record of sexual harassment and boasts of being a sexual predator who is campaigning for an accused pedophile for the U.S. Senate.
It’s also a diversion from the Russiagate inquiries, coming at the same time his oldest son is being questioned by congressional investigators, his former national security advisor is turning state’s evidence, his former campaign manager in under house arrest and the popular pastime around Washington is betting who will be the next Trumpite indicted.
With all that on his plate, no wonder the president prefers to talk about Jerusalem.