Trump derailed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

December 6, 2017

Photo by Andrew Shiva (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Photo by Andrew Shiva (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Today, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He is also planning a year-long process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The United States recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital -- a city that the United Nations designated an “international city” in 1947 -- will reinforce Israeli-Palestinian divisions, add tension to an already volatile region, and disrupt the already challenging and fragile peace process. All this with no apparent benefits, except making good on an ill-conceived campaign promise. 

Trump's decision is a disaster for peace

Trump’s move eliminates the possibility of the U.S. acting as a peace-broker and overturns decades of U.S. policy towards the region, including a longstanding position that Israeli-Palestinian grievances must be resolved through negotiations. He reversed 70 years of international consensus and many global leaders believe that he derailed any peace initiative between the Israelis and Palestinians.

UNSC resolution 478 declared Israel’s enactment of the 1980 Basic Jerusalem Law -- that proclaimed a unified Jerusalem as the ”eternal and indivisible” capital of Israel -- as a violation of international law. In 2016, former Secretary of State John Kerry said the city “is the most sensitive issue for both sides” and suggested it be the “internationally recognized capital of the two states.”

International leaders are condemning Trump’s reckless decision. Senator Bernie Sanders criticized Trump for undermining Israeli-Palestinian peace and damaging the U.S.’s ability to broker it. Jewish advocacy group J Street, for example, called it “an unhelpful step with no tangible benefits, only serious risks.” Pope Francis pleaded for the preservation of Jerusalem's identity and needless conflict to be avoided. The main patriarchs in the city urged Trump not to change longstanding U.S. policy. 

A sacred site for Jews, Muslims, and Christians

Jerusalem is also a part of the Occupied Territories. Israelis moving into these territories is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Trump’s recognition of the city as the capital of Israel will cause a sharp spike in unrest and conflict.

Turkey already announced that there will be severe consequences. Palestinian leaders are advocating for demonstrations and protests on the ground, which could trigger turmoil in the region. In recognizing Israeli settlements in and around Jerusalem as legitimate, the U.S. is now out-of-step with the rest of the international community who consider these settlements to be illegal.

This land has historical significance to all three Abrahamic faiths. Jerusalem is the de facto capital of the Holy Land for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The U.S. is violating the religious freedom of Palestinians by recognizing the city as the capital of the Jewish state. Past Israeli attempts to add oversight to Jerusalem have sparked violence. 

Domestic implications of Trump’s recognition

To understand the reasoning behind this move, we must understand a segment of Trump’s Christian evangelical base. Some evangelicals believe that the return of the Jews to Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, support for Israel is stronger among American evangelicals than it is even among American Jews. The poll found that 82 percent of white evangelicals think God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Less than half as many American Jews or American Catholics agree.

In a Bloomberg poll, almost 60 percent of evangelicals say the U.S. should support Israel even if its interests diverge with American interests. In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump is fulfilling a campaign promise to this constituency at the expense of American interests.

Once only a global issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now also a domestic issue. Here at home, our communities will be impacted by the right to free speech when being critical of Israeli policies. Student activists supporting Palestine on college campuses will continue to be intimidated and possibly bullied. Lawmakers continue to introduce legislation that would punish critics of Israel and supporters of the BDS movement.

The U.S.’s role in this conflict is critical, but Trump has diminished American leadership not just in the peace process but in the entire Middle East. Because of his misguided, uninformed decision, Trump can expect political unrest, stifled peace processes, and further limitations to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.



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