The rumor mill is running wild that President Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this week. It is unclear whether this would include recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the entire city as currently constituted and it also is unclear whether the United States will move its embassy to Jerusalem. In addition, if the embassy is moved, there is no commitment on where in Jerusalem it would be located.
Islamic reaction has been apoplectic. Turkish President Erdogan stated that any recognition of Jerusalem would cross a “red line”. King Abdullah of Jordan said such recognition would threaten the “two state solution”.
Domestically, the American Foreign Policy Establishment has been predictable. On CNN’s website, Aaron David Miller wrote “if Trump asserts that US policy is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it would be tantamount to saying Washington now recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the entire city. If he simply says that just West Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, he risks alienating the Israeli government by suggesting that the eastern part of the city isn’t included”. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to be completely opposed to recognition.
Mr. Miller, Mr. Tillerson and especially King Abdullah are wrong. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be the single most important move toward reviving the possibility of a two-state solution. Simply put, President Trump has to show that he will act according to American interests and policy, and not be subject to intimidation or threats from any other power.
Trump should accept neither of the options that Mr. Miller laid out, nor should he back Mr. Tillerson’s supposed belief that America should continue to do nothing. As evidenced by the Erdogan statement, doing nothing has produced nothing. For 70 years, American equivocation on this issue has gotten us nowhere except a belief among the Islamic rejectionists that they can control American policy through threats and violence.
What President Trump should do is both assert American policy and reassert what the Obama Administration relinquished when it failed to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 – territorial ambiguity. Mr. Trump should state that according to both United States policy and UN Resolution 2334, there can be no doubt that at least pre-Six Day War West Jerusalem is Israeli territory. As all countries have the right to select their capital from anywhere within their own sovereign territory, there is no reason to refuse to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. With regard to the final borders of the city, the United States will not pre-judge this. Indeed, since 1967 the municipal borders have changed. This final resolution will be for the parties themselves to decide.
Such a move by Trump would lead him out of the box the United States was put in by President Obama last December. Prior to UN Resolution 2334, there was no agreement internationally on the final status of Jerusalem. The original 1947 Partition Plan called for an internationalized city. Israel’s claim of Jerusalem as its capital was not recognized internationally, and its conquest of the entire city in the Six Day War was viewed by nearly all of the international community as temporary, with the final status to be determined by the parties themselves upon negotiations.
There is no evidence, however, that the Arab states, and much of the rest of the Islamic world, viewed Israel’s sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem as legitimate. And that remains the crux of the issue.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334 expressly stated that all of the Jordanian-controlled lands west of the Jordan River as of pre-June 4, 1967 were Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem (and by definition the Old City, including the Western Wall). It made no mention of Israeli-controlled land, including West Jerusalem. In a fit of personal pique against Bibi Netanyahu, Barrack Obama allowed 2334 to pass. In doing so, President Obama handed the Arab maximalists hope that their dream of wiping Israel off the map was one step closer. After all, they had gotten international recognition of their land claims (including claims to Jerusalem) without giving any recognition to Israel’s claims. As seen this week, the impact of 2334 is not a lessening of tensions in the region, but an increased belief by the rejectionists that they can control international policy by threats.
Conversely, the president’s refusal to accept Israeli control over the entire city, while leaving the issue open, means that President Trump neither accepts nor rejects the arguments of the Israeli maximalists. This both restores American territorial ambiguity while simultaneously rejecting outright the demands of the Arab maximalists.
If there is any hope to a peace process that really brings peace, it must be based on mutual acceptance, compromise and recognition. That was severely damaged by 2334. Trump’s actions would resonate clearly that the United States will not accept the dreams of the Arab rejectionists, and will not wait for their approval before asserting American foreign policy.
If American recognition brings violence in the region, then it seems clear any eventual American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem would bring violence. It’s better to make the move now when countries like Saudi Arabia and yes – Turkey – need Israel as a check on Iranian expansion than continue to wait. In doing so, the United States will announce to both sides that the US accepts neither’s ultimate territorial ambitions, and that final resolution lies through working with each other and not through trying to get the international community, or any one country, to do its bidding for it.