Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration Is Even Worse Than You Think

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by Mitchell Plitnick

President Donald Trump has apparently decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The announcement, expected to come on Wednesday, has already elicited sharp responses. Surprisingly, though, the real danger is, if anything, being understated.

The danger in this move is ironically epitomized in the statement by the dovish, pro-Israel group, J Street. Their president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, concludes his statement by saying, “While we would hope that any announcement would not result in further violence and suffering—in Israel, in the region and potentially around the world—we fear that it might.”

That’s nearly a universal sentiment, to be sure. But the real danger in Trump’s decision is that it not only may lead to violence, it makes violence necessary.

Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official and current director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security said on Twitter, “The reaction to the Jerusalem capital recognition might be no big deal. Or it might be a total disaster. We just don’t know. Which is why every US President has chosen not to play with fire.”

Here’s the thing: if the immediate reaction is no big deal, that leads to much greater problems for the Palestinians.

US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital effectively takes the issue off the table as a final status issue, no matter how much the US, Israel, and people who are understandably desperate to save the two-state solution might argue otherwise. What does the aftermath of that action look like?

It is a virtual certainty that significant unrest will follow the US declaration on Jerusalem. In the West Bank and Gaza there is sure to be a massive outpouring of anger. In the wider Middle East, even sympathetic countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are likely to allow demonstrations for at least a few days after.

The fear that has restrained prior administrations, which might otherwise have done something like this, is that the ensuing anger would topple friendly leaders. Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine, King Abdullah in Jordan, and Mohammed al-Sisi in Egypt are the ones most clearly threatened. But unrest could spread to the Gulf states as well. More than likely, if things got that far out of hand, there would be a sharp crackdown on demonstrations. Such action would probably quell the protests, but it also risks enflaming them.

But there’s also a distinct possibility that after a week or two of protests, and even some violence, by the beginning of 2018, US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has become the new normal.

If it does turn out that way, the Palestinians will have received a very grim message. They will have been told that all the norms on which they have based their commitment to negotiations are nothing but smoke. They will have been told that the United States is their enemy, something a great many believe already, but which has never been so explicitly demonstrated. They will have been told that the international community is either unable or unwilling to do anything to materially assist them when the chips are down. They will have been told that their only hope is to create such pain for Israelis and unrest throughout the region that their needs will have to be addressed.

In short, the United States will have sent the message that Hamas and other armed groups have been right all along about the need to rely on armed struggle. If anything, the message would be that such efforts need to be dramatically increased.

That’s not the only message the Trump declaration would send. It would also tell Israel, in no uncertain terms, that its view that its national and territorial desires completely trump Palestinian rights is correct. It also gives impetus to those forces within Israel, many of which are currently represented in the government, that contemplate ways they might be rid of the Palestinians once and for all.

Whether such ideas take hold in Israel or not—and with the strong uptick in nationalism that we have witnessed in Israel over the past 15 years, we should not minimize this possibility—the fear of a second naqba will almost certainly sweep through the Palestinian Territories, the broader Middle East, and many communities of Palestinian supporters around the world.

Even for Donald Trump, few decisions have been as reckless, foolish, and heartless as this one. Even the hope for a response that minimizes bloodshed in the short term implies an even greater calamity down the road. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for activists, pundits, and governments all around the world. This decision seems to have been made. If so, it must be reversed.

Photo: Palestine Nakba Day demonstration in Berlin (Wikimedia Commons).

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Mitchell Plitnick

Mitchell Plitnick is former vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He is the former director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was previously the director of education and policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement. His writing has appeared in the Jordan Times, Israel Insider, UN Observer, Middle East Report, Global Dialogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Die Blaetter Fuer Deutsche Und Internationale Politik, Outlook, and in a regular column for a time in Tikkun Magazine. He has been interviewed by various outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor and CNBC Asia. Plitnick graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography and earned his Masters Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park's School of Public Policy.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for that post , that is indeed , very reasonable and realistic analysis , yet , it should be noticed :

    First , the issue , is not recognizing the Jerusalem city , as the Capital city , but , the unified city as a whole , as the Capital city . The Palestinians themselves don’t oppose the West Jerusalem , as the recognized Capital city , but , what they do oppose , is to include , the apparent occupied east part , in the unified Jerusalem as Capital city of Israel .

    Second : One should predict another possible outcome :

    This time , the effect on the Israeli public opinion . Maybe Trump believes , that he can soften the Israeli public opinion , in light of the ongoing preparation for the renewing of the peace process , so , Netanyahu , may be more willing to compromise ahead .
    In a way or other , slim chances for solution ….. but , hope can always stay around ……

    Thanks

  2. Both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine have declared Jerusalem as their capital. The obvious solution is joint sovereignty and a joint administration: Jerusalem would be the undivided capital of Israel, and the undivided capital of Palestine. That would of course require Israel to recognize the State of Palestine. Palestine recognized Israel in 1993 – Israel should be pressured to reciprocate.

    Joint sovereignty over Jerusalem could eventually lead to joint sovereignty over the whole of mandatory Palestine. See “The One-State-Two-Nations Proposal”.

  3. “Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration” is the law of the land, supported by recent Trump opponents Obama and Clinton.
    PUBLIC LAW 104–45—NOV. 8, 1995 (extracts)
    JERUSALEM EMBASSY ACT OF 1995
    The Congress makes the following findings:
    (1) Each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital.
    (2) Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel.
    STATEMENT OF THE POLICY OF THE UNITED STATES.—
    (1) Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected; (2) Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and (3) the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.

  4. If we should now have to endure an Intifada of the Palestinians…………..is there any wonder? How obtuse our president can become to what is true and necessary.

  5. The Palestinians have joined a group of people sidelined by history -to their great disadvantage. This is the group of long-standing residents of territories stolen from them by invasion, one way or another. Native Americans, North and South; Australian Aborigenies; and many, many others. The Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot agreement between them, and all that flowed from them via the Holocaust, relegated the local peoples of the Middle-East to spectator status.

    Netenyahu has consistently, over decades, in both English and Hebrew publications and talks, shown he has no interest at all in a ‘two state’, or any other, mutually agreeable resolution of conflicting claims.

    the dying and bleeding seems likely to continue into the indefinite long-term. The much self-congratulated ‘international community’ is no longer doing nothing effective about this; nor will it.

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