Ilan Gold­en­berg: De­ci­sion a prod­uct of self­ish­ness, in­com­pe­tence

The Dallas Morning News - - Viewpoints - Ilan Gold­en­berg is the direc­tor of the Mid­dle East Se­cu­rity Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity. This col­umn first ap­peared in Slate. Email: igold­en­berg@cnas.org

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.

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