Jerusalem embassy move has zero upside for America
Why is it a problem that the Trump administration is recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital with plans to relocate the American Embassy there? After all, Israeli’s entire government is located in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where the American government conducts its relations with Israel. It is the stated capital of Israel, one of America’s closest allies.
The answer is that the status of Jerusalem is deeply contested. Both Israel and Palestinians claim it as the capital of their respective states. Both sides have agreed to negotiate the city’s status, but thus far have not come up with any solutions, even on the most basic question of whether or where to locate the boundary between the areas each claims for itself: Israel claims the entire city as its capital while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem.
The 1967 war complicated this issue when Israel gained control over Jerusalem. The Israeli parliament effectively annexed Jerusalem to Israel by dramatically expanding the municipal boundary — far beyond what it had been historically.
Israel reiterated and strengthened its legal claim about 13 years later. Thus any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital immediately opens up the question of which Jerusalem is being recognized — the western part of the city that Israel held between 1948 and 1967, or the expanded city over which Israel has asserted sovereignty since 1967.
Trump inherited a moribund peace process a year ago, and it would have been understandable if he had distanced himself from this protracted conflict and complex conflict-resolution process. However, Trump announced his intention to make the “ultimate deal” — assigning the task of forging a very difficult peace to his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Trump has undercut these efforts, effectively ending the United States’ role as an honest third-party mediator.
Daniel Kurtzer is a professor in Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
His decision will likely spark protests, some possibly violent, in Palestine and throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Trump could mitigate his own damage by stating that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and will recognize the city as Palestine’s capital when a two-state solution has been achieved. He could promise to continue the peace efforts and back that up by ensuring that when the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem it locates in West Jerusalem, while committing to locating its embassy to the future state of Palestine in East Jerusalem.
Creative diplomacy like this could actually jump-start the peace process.
Kurtzer is a professor in Middle East policy studies at Princeton University. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt.