Keeping with his campaign promise, President Donald Trump announced that the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to widespread rebuke from virtually every country and news outlet in the world (and boisterous applause from a very select few – more on that later).
Leading up to the infamous announcement were various threats from Middle Eastern leaders, with the Palestinian Authority threatening to do everything short of holding their breath until they turned blue in the face and with Turkey going as far as to say that they’d break off their newly re-established diplomatic ties with Israel if America dared recognize Jerusalem. European countries were less dramatic but warned against changing the status quo and news outlets were loving every minute of the “will he-won’t he” drama, gleefully stoking the flames of sensationalism.
Before I talk about the aftermath of the announcement as well as my position on the matter, I’d like to point out some important realities regarding the status of Jerusalem and some strange hypocrisies that seem to be perpetuated. While Jerusalem was originally slated to be an “international city” for all peoples administered by the United Nations as stipulated in the 1947 Partition Plan (that the Zionist leadership originally accepted and the Palestinian leadership originally rejected), the facts on the ground have long changed. After Israel’s War of Independence/the Palestinian Naqba, Jerusalem was divided, with West Jerusalem being under permanent Israeli control and East Jerusalem (where the Old City is located) along with the entire West Bank being under what would be temporary Jordanian control. At that moment, Israel declared West Jerusalem as its capital.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel took control of East Jerusalem (as well as the West Bank) and proceeded to annex East Jerusalem, making it the “united capital of the State of Israel” to put it in the words of so many Israeli nationalists. The global community has not recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem nor has it recognized Israel’s selection of Jerusalem as its capital — neither in 1967 nor, bizarrely enough, in 1948.
The global community’s logically backwards and disingenuous reason for refusing to officially recognize even West Jerusalem as a part of Israel is because it wasn’t part of Israel in the 1947 Partition Plan…but neither are lots of cities that Israel gained as part of its territory in 1948 that the world DOES recognize as part of Israel, like Nazareth for instance. So why recognize Nazareth as part of Israel but call even West Jerusalem “disputed”? This is logically inconsistent doublespeak by the diplomatic community.
It’s especially silly given that virtually every serious peace negotiator knows that West Jerusalem will ALWAYS remain a part of Israel. This isn’t a controversial statement, as neither Arafat nor Abbas nor any major Palestinian negotiators have ever put forth a peace proposal that includes any part of West Jerusalem in a future Palestinian State. When it comes to Jerusalem, the only contested territory is East Jerusalem, which will almost undoubtedly be the capital of a future Palestinian State (with adjustments with regards to the status of the four quarters of the Old City and possibly engaging in the process of land swaps for large Jewish neighbourhoods that were built in East Jerusalem during the last 50 years). The point remains, however, that at the very least, West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel in the event of a peace deal.
For the aforementioned reasons, the international community does a great disservice when they ignore these realities. However, there’s also the practical element to consider, because whether they like it or not, the State of Israel is the only country that has any real say in the matter and they view Jerusalem as their capital. As a result, the Knesset (their national assembly) is located in West Jerusalem, along with government departments, the prime minister’s place of residence, the president’s place of residence and virtually everything else one would associate with a capital city short of the embassies of foreign countries which are located in Tel Aviv. With that said, since everything else is in Jerusalem, ambassadors and diplomats often find themselves making the one hour trek from Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli government officials. Moreover, the United States plays such a major role in the peace process that the American ambassador and their peace teams often have hotels in Jerusalem reserved for them year-round for their numerous trips to the prime minister’s office. In other words, the silliness of dragging our feet on such a silly issue has resulted in tremendous bureaucratic waste.
In any case, none of this really matters though, because it’s other countries that are choosing to inconvenience their foreign service members and it really doesn’t affect Israel all that much. After all, according to Israel, Jerusalem is their capital and they’ve developed it as such; how the world chooses to view the situation is ultimately their problem, not Israel’s.
With that said, it’s important to understand that the diplomatic community wants to use Jerusalem recognition as a bargaining chip to get both sides to negotiate in good faith, where the Israelis will finally get the international recognition of Jerusalem they desire upon the creation of a Palestinian State and an end to the conflict. At the same time, however, I question the efficacy of such a tactic both historically and presently and I think it would be just as acceptable to recognize just West Jerusalem – or even all of Jerusalem – as the capital of Israel with the very clear caveat that its final status is pending, thus recognizing the reality for both sides and treating Israel fairly. However, at this point in time, due to the extremely tumultuous realities on the ground as well as the purely symbolic nature of international recognition, I just don’t see the point in making any sudden, unilateral moves. Ultimately, this doesn’t matter and there are far bigger issues to concern ourselves with.
This brings us to President Trump’s decision and why I’m against it, albeit rather apathetically. In the mid 1990s, Congress passed a bill that would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there to reflect that reality by the end of 1999. However, President Bill Clinton went on to sign a waiver, pushing that decision forward another 6 months for further reflection. President Clinton, along with Presidents Bush and Obama would go on to do the same thing every 6 months, essentially stalling this decision indefinitely. They did this on the advice of their national security advisors and the state department, which basically said that such a move would destabilize the region, as the Palestinians would react negatively on a unilateral decision that would call into question the status of the city that they view as the capital of their future state; they also view Jerusalem as a holy city for their Christian and Muslim populations.
However, for whatever reason, President Trump didn’t really care about any of that and made a speech recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Despite the fact that he stated in his speech that the recognition didn’t include specific borders and wouldn’t in any way affect the final status of Jerusalem which would have to be mutually agreed upon during peace negotiations, the media was abuzz and the Middle East aflame. The Palestinian Authority called for three days of rage, Hamas called for a third intifada and Hezbollah called for the destruction of Israel. While it’s tough to discern this reaction from their usual rhetoric, the actions that followed certainly indicated that this was different.
There were thousands who protested throughout the West Bank, often violently by throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and starting fires. The Israeli Defense Forces responded by firing tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and even live rounds in an attempt to disperse the angry mobs and neutralize threats. According to Al-Jazeera, as of December 9, two Palestinians have been killed and nearly 800 have been injured in clashes with the IDF. It’s important to note that most of these protests were described as non-violent by media on the ground. That said, it would seem the nature of these protests didn’t really matter as the IDF was clamping down on them wherever they’d spring up by confiscating Palestinian flags and forcing stores in certain neighborhoods to shut down for the day before arresting anyone daring enough to stick around to voice their displeasure.
Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem were at a standstill, as many residents didn’t attend work out of fear of injury and many Jewish schools were under lockdown for fear of retaliation by enraged Palestinians. With the vigilance of the IDF and the defensive measures that were put in place by internal security forces, it would appear that no Jewish Israeli civilians were killed or injured (which is quite the contrast to the aforementioned figures on the Palestinian side). It would seem that the PA’s day of rage turned out to be more of a day of mass hospitalization.
On top of the calls to violence and the carnage that followed, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas stated that the US could no longer be considered a trustworthy, neutral peace broker and stated that the PA was no longer interested in dealing with the American peace team. Furthermore, Abbas stated that the PA would emphatically reject whatever peace proposal that Jared Kushner planned on unveiling to them in the coming weeks. It would appear that this was more than just rhetoric, as Abbas recalled his envoy to the United States on New Year’s day, symbolically severing ties with the Trump Administration. This doesn’t bode well for the future.
Moreover, at the time of writing this article, terrorist groups within Gaza have sporadically fired tens of rockets into Israel (frighteningly, at the same levels we’ve seen right before the 2014 war) and Israel has retaliated accordingly with targeted air strikes on their positions. This has been going on every week since the announcement and has yet to stop. It goes without saying that another war with Gaza would be catastrophic for everyone and would further shatter all hopes for any future peace negotiations.
Perhaps the silliest part of all of this though, is that nothing has really changed in terms of the status of Jerusalem to the United States. A few hours after his “courageous speech,” President Trump would go on to sign the very same 6-month extension waiver that presidents Clinton through Obama had signed before him, putting a temporary (albeit likely indefinite) pause on the embassy move. In other words, Trump enflamed the region and may have literally ignited another war with Gaza over the status quo! After all, the only real, tangible way a country can recognize another country’s capital is through putting an embassy there, but without doing that, there’s no real difference. So to recap, Trump took a valuable bargaining chip off the table, endangered the lives of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, may have caused a war with Gaza and essentially removed America (at least in the short term) as a partner in the negotiation of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal…over nothing.
So just who was in favour of this move? The usual suspects were surprisingly not behind this, as AIPAC was very much on the sidelines during this decision. The groups that were cheering this on were the Zionist Organization of America (an extremely fringe albeit vocal far-right Zionist mob) and various Evangelical groups in the United States who believe that when the Jewish people return to their ancestral homeland and are in a state of power, it will help advance the apocalypse and bring the second coming of Christ. And of course, the Donald Trump of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, met the decision with classic smarmy delight.
While this is all so evidently nauseating, the reactions that followed were even more frustrating. First of all, it’s sickening that the Palestinian leadership has called for violence over symbolic gestures that realistically don’t affect any Palestinian civilian’s life in any tangible way. Firing rockets, lighting things on fire and slinging rocks is not an appropriate reaction to virtually any announcement from Trump and any attempt to excuse this behaviour amounts to infantilization. I can’t remember a single time when any Israeli leadership called for a day of rage when Arafat or Abbas made incendiary gestures or statements that weren’t in Israel’s interests. This carnage was beyond needless and all this does is make both sides hate each other even more.
And of course the UN had to have an immediate series of meetings about this “dire” and “pressing” situation. Apparently one country’s recognition of a capital merits days of emergency sessions and fiery resolutions of condemnation, where the world quickly unites to tackle “injustice”, more so than they’ve ever done for the human rights crises plaguing Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan or Myanmar. If only Israel would declare their capital as Sana’a, then the millions of Yemeni civilians being blown to bits by Saudi airstrikes and starved to death by a merciless blockade would get some attention from the UN as well, but I guess Arab lives don’t matter unless they’re being taken by Israel.
Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the UN’s reaction was that they voted to declare America’s recognition of Jerusalem as null and void. In other words, the UN doesn’t recognized America’s recognition…and judging by America’s “no” vote to the resolution, they don’t recognize the UN’s lack of recognition of their recognition. All of this, over a country choosing to recognize another country’s capital…that virtually everyone already secretly acknowledges is their capital.
But the madness doesn’t end there because just a few days later Turkey declared that they were recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and would be moving their embassy there. No emergency sessions by the UN and no resolutions of condemnation; it was as if nothing had happened. Talk about hypocrisy! American unilateral action is condemned in the strongest of terms but when Turkey takes even stronger unilateral action that would actually affect the status of Jerusalem, the world doesn’t bat an eye. The world’s outrage could not be more selective.
Ironically enough, Turkey was one of the countries that was the most vocal in their condemnation of America’s recognition of “Occupied Jerusalem” and considers itself one of the loudest voices of support for Palestinian human rights. The same Turkey that’s been illegally occupying Northern Cyprus since 1974, has conducted countless airstrikes on Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria, has mercilessly purged all dissidents after the failed coup d’état in 2016 and continues to deny the Armenian genocide. And the global community just looks on; nothing to see here, folks. Up is down and left is right.
So yes, while America’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was needless, when you look at the situation in its entirety and realize how the media and the international community made it seem like an individual country’s purely symbolic and impractical foreign policy decision is the largest catastrophe facing the world, it becomes clear that somehow, for the first time ever, President Trump has managed to look the most level-headed.