Ilan Goldenberg: Decision a product of selfishness, incompetence
President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday that he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects two of the worst aspects of this administration’s policymaking: the president’s selfish focus on his domestic politics and an incompetence that only made things worse.
Trump’s decision was all about placating his base. There is no other strategic rationale for taking this step now, which is why the president’s advisers have struggled in background briefings to explain how it is in the United States’ security interest. And even the domestic politics for Trump are not very compelling: Sure, he promised to move the embassy during the campaign, but this was not a central tenet of his platform.
Prioritizing this minor point on his agenda could have grave repercussions for so many others. For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the consequences are profound. The final status of Jerusalem is perhaps the most sensitive issue in Palestinian politics. Palestinians insist that any two-state agreement must have East Jerusalem as their capital, and they view Trump’s declaration as biasing that outcome. The president tried to hedge by stating that the final status of Jerusalem is still up for negotiation. But the reality is that his statement gives the Israelis a huge political victory and gives the Palestinians nothing.
Some of our most important Arab partners, whose advice Trump chose to disregard, now have significant problems on their hands. This is especially true of Jordan, a reliable partner of the U.S. The Jordanian population is 70 percent Palestinian, and this step is likely to cause instability.
Trump’s decision also disregards concerns about the safety of American citizens and diplomats serving in the Middle East. Palestinians have already called for three “days of rage” in response, which are likely to entail protests and possible violence across the West Bank and Gaza.
Finally, Trump’s decision is selfish because it disregards the work of his own peace proposal team, led by Jared Kushner, which has been working for months and is reportedly setting the table for proffering a major deal. It is hard to imagine that Kushner supported this step knowing it was likely to jeopardize his efforts.
The Palestinians have already responded by stating that the change makes it impossible for the U.S. to act as an objective mediator and virtually eliminates the likelihood that Palestinian leaders will accept any proposal from Trump’s team.
Administration officials have argued that by sticking to his campaign promise, the president will appear serious and credible. Nothing could be further from the truth. The rest of the world has always viewed this particular promise as pure American domestic politics.
Sadly, the Trump administration has missed a real opportunity. Instead of dropping a one-off announcement like a bomb that makes future efforts impossible, he could have recognized Jerusalem as the capital and moved the embassy as part of a broader peace plan.