Trump’s Jerusalem Move: Policy or Politics? By Joshua Turner
Donald Trump made several big campaign promises about building walls and making of deals. One of the lesser known promises for most was the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. For Evangelical Christians and influential conservative Jewish supporters like Sheldon Adelson, this was a major issue that worth expending controversial support to.
Now that it has come to pass- though the actual building and moving of the embassy will take a number of years- it is worth examining why Trump made the move now, as well as trying to understand the large reaction to it.
This will require a bit of historical context; Jerusalem is the holiest city in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. It maintains a great deal of significance for Christians as well, the level of which is dependent on one’s particular sect.
Because of its importance, each side in the conflict has long desired to have control over their respective sections. West Jerusalem has been claimed by the government to be the capital of Israel, while Palestinians have long hoped for East Jerusalem to be their eventual capital.
Israel’s claim to Jerusalem has not been recognized by the United Nations, which has declared East Jerusalem to be occupied Palestinian territory. The notion of the United States possibly recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital is not new to Mr. Trump; Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had promised to move the U.S. embassy there during their tenures (neither did of course) and Barack Obama had a bit of a gaffe when during a speech he declared that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel (a statement he immediately walked back).
So why now? One potential reason is that Trump, along with son-in-law Jared Kushner are hoping to take the Jerusalem issue off the table, which might allow for the peace talks Mr. Kushner is hopeful of undertaking to proceed. Indeed, Arab pushback is likely to be much less intense than it would have been in previous years. For many in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia, Israel has been replaced by Iran as a major concern in the region. Sunni states, hopeful of some Israeli support in pushing back against Iranian led Shia influence, have moved the Palestinian issue to the backburner. Mr. Kushner is said to have a good relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which could smooth things over.
A more critical assessment is that Trump has done this for purely political reasons. This helps him deliver on a campaign promise to his base and perhaps most importantly, distracts from the growing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into collusion and obstruction of justice, which has produced several indictments and guilty pleases by various officials in the Trump campaign and administration. If this is the case, one would presume that Trump is comfortable with the violence and loss of life that may come from this decision.
It is worth noting that Mr. Trump undertook this action against the recommendations of his Secretaries of Defense and State, and his National Security Advisor. Palestinians will now view the United States more as being on the side of Israel than an honest broker for peace, while our European allies will continue to question our commitment to global stability. The move will strengthen ties with Israel, our most important ally in the region, though it is fair to ask if the relationship needed strengthen to begin with. It will still be years until the embassy is physically moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; protests, violence, and bloodshed are unlikely to be that far off.
Joshua Turner is a Masters of International Relations candidate at American University and editor of The Hitch