Jury out on Jerusalem move

Jury out on Jerusalem move

When pressed for a prediction about future developments in Israel, Israeli politicians are fond of saying that it is unwise to offer prophecies in the land of prophets.

This has proven especially true when it comes to Mideast peace prospects in the nearly one year since Donald Trump became president. As promised, he has shaken up the status quo and torn down basic assumptions about the process, eager to point out that those efforts have not brought much progress in the last few decades.

It’s still too early to tell how the president’s most dramatic Mideast move — recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and promising to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv — will play out. As expected, the Palestinian leadership was furious about the announcement and, at least for now, has refused to meet with American officials. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says the U.S. can no longer serve as an honest broker, and he may turn to Russia or Turkey to play that role, which would be a non-starter for Israel. Vice President Mike Pence canceled his visit to the region shortly before his scheduled departure this week, in part because he wanted to be in Washington for the tax bill vote, but more likely because no Palestinian leader would meet with him. 

That sentiment was reinforced when the U.S. stood by Israel and vetoed an Egyptian-sponsored United Nations resolution on Monday that would have undone the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and called upon all countries to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

In vetoing the resolution, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., unambiguously called the 14-1 Security Council vote in favor of the Egyptian-drafted resolution “an insult. It won’t be forgotten.”

It won’t be forgotten by a grateful Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised the administration. But it won’t soon be forgotten by critics, either.

So far, fears of a new intifada have not materialized, though there were anti-Israel and anti-U.S. demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank, some of them violent. 

“The violence may not come right away,” according to Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic, “but over the longer term, Trump’s decision increases the odds of violence because it deepens Palestinian despair.”

Aaron David Miller, who served as a Middle East negotiator in both Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote that Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, “a third rail in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” is “likely to complicate the very peace process Trump wants to promote…the move on Jerusalem will call into question Washington’s credibility as an effective mediator.”

But such comments, coming from longtime supporters of Mideast peace efforts, were seen by pro-Israel hardliners as predictably and negatively skewed.

The reaction by Arab and Muslim leaders to Trump’s declaration was predictably critical but relatively muted. No call for jihad or suspension of diplomatic relations with the U.S., no doubt in large part because views on Israel have softened, at least privately, in parts of the Arab world.

“While Arab leaders have continued to pay lip service to the Palestinian cause, it has slipped in importance, displaced by the Arab Spring uprisings, the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the threat of the Islamic State, and the contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance,” The New York Times editorialized. “Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, more concerned about their rivalry with Iran, have found their interests increasingly overlapping with those of Israel.”

For now, it appears that President Trump has proved that an historical wrong can be corrected in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without setting the region aflame. But how long will that last, and what are the long-term effects of the Trump approach?

Only a prophet knows.

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