By Nick Wadhams and Jonathan Ferziger
Bloomberg’s Joe Sobczyk reports on the demand for an emergency meeting by eight Security Council nations.
President Donald Trump called his decision Wednesday to break with decades of precedent and declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel a move made “in the best interest of peace between Israel and Palestine.” Israel aside, few others saw it that way.
Trump tried to temper his decision by reaffirming U.S. support for a “two-state solution” and saying he wasn’t preempting any final decision about Israel’s borders or sovereignty within Jerusalem. That’s important to Palestinians, because they view the eastern part of the city as their future capital, but it’s also something they would have already expected in any peace deal, so Trump’s statement rang hollow.
The full impact of Trump’s decision won’t really be known until his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, unveils a plan he has been working on with a small team aimed at forging peace in the Middle East. White House officials conceded that the effort isn’t ready yet and that there will be a cooling off period following Wednesday’s announcement before the administration can move forward with it.
“This step is prejudging, dictating, closing doors for negotiations and I think President Trump tonight disqualified the United States of America to play any role in any peace process,” Saeb Erekat, the main Palestinian peace negotiator, said after Trump’s speech.
It wasn’t just the Palestinians. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May called Trump’s decision “unhelpful.” Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni tweeted that Jerusalem’s future should be defined within a peace process. French President Emmanuel Macron, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Pope Francis were also opposed. Late Wednesday, eight members of the UN Security Council demanded an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
“We disagree with the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement,” May said in statement. “The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it.”
The decision reaffirmed Trump’s image as the disrupter-in-chief, a sobriquet he’s earned after dismissing delicate diplomatic constructs forged over decades — such as when he questioned the wisdom of the “One-China policy” between Taiwan and China shortly before he was sworn into office.
Other precedent-busting foreign policy moves included his willingness to openly criticize past U.S. administrations on the world stage and engage in name-calling with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump has dubbed “Little Rocket Man.” He also defied U.S. allies by coming out in opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.
“I think that a shock to the system is not a bad thing,” said Danielle Pletka, senior vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
That approach comes with consequences.
Right after Trump’s declaration, hundreds of angry Palestinians took to the streets to denounce Trump. Demonstrators burned tires in the towns of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, across Gaza City and in the southern Gaza Strip’s towns of Khan Younis and Rafah.
‘I Was Provoked’
“I have never joined any protest against Israel, but when I heard that Trump declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, I was provoked and got mad,” said Hassan Sami Dbabesh, a 20-year-old construction worker from Gaza City.
So what did the U.S. president actually get in return for his decision?
Trump and his staff described the move as a recognition of reality on the ground. Israeli government institutions are based in Jerusalem and the country’s leaders would almost certainly insist as part of any deal that the city be the country’s capital.
“When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges, with open eyes and very fresh thinking,” Trump said. “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past.”
If nothing else, Trump has fulfilled a campaign vow, one that presidential candidates before him have long promised but never carried out.
“The reason he wanted to do this in the first place was symbolism in fulfillment of a campaign pledge to his evangelical base,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
But she warned the move could backfire well beyond the current global outcry. Protests were also reported in Turkey, and images began to circulate online of demonstrations breaking out throughout the region.
That may be why Arab leaders, even key U.S. allies, protested the move so strongly, knowing the president’s move won’t play well among their populations. Trump said he would send Vice President Mike Pence to the region in the coming days “to reaffirm our commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism that threatens the hopes and dreams of future generations.”
“Everything about Jerusalem is symbolic, every square inch,” Wittes said. “We’ve seen this over and over again in Jerusalem, it’s very easy for one individual act to spin up a crisis that nobody intended.”
— With assistance by Saud Abu Ramadan, and Kambiz Foroohar