Op-ed: The US president didn’t talk about a complete Jerusalem and didn’t even define the meaning of Jerusalem, leaving this ‘detail’ to the parties; he basically started a process to divide the city and create two holy capitals—an Israeli Jerusalem and a Palestinian Jerusalem.
US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital triggered an uproar in the Muslim world. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, excited by the American support, looked so happy one would think he had won another term in office, and that doesn’t seem so unrealistic actually (after all, “there is nothing” in the investigations against him).
But the devil is in the detail, and the details paint a different picture from the one the two leaders wish to paint. To understand that, we should carefully read Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments on the issue in a meeting with Palestinian President Abbas last week. “With this decision,” he said, “Israel was rewarded for all the terrorist activities it has carried out. East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” East Jerusalem, he said. In other words, Jerusalem is being divided.
Trump didn’t talk about a complete Jerusalem, and he didn’t even define the meaning of Jerusalem. He left this “detail” to the parties. He announced the United States’ recognition of “Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, and said in the same breath that the embassy would not be moved to the Israeli capital just yet because it required planning and building. That’s a pretty lame excuse. A symbolic office could have been organized within two days. I personally know someone who is willing to rent out such an office to the American president.
That way, Trump bought time ahead of the next semi-annual “will he or will he not move the embassy?” ceremony, and left the option of Jerusalem’s division open. In fact, he actually pushed for its division, between the Arab neighborhoods surrounding it and the western city. Abbas, after all, isn’t claiming that the western city belongs to him, to Palestine. He is saying “Jerusalem,” just like Netanyahu. And they both know that the question “what is Jerusalem?” is similar to the question “who is a Jew?”—there are a lot of opinions on the matter.
Trump’s move, therefore, is a bold move—either foolish or brilliant—which creates a different dynamic in the Middle East, without actually leading to a change in his views.
Trump, as a businessman, probably thinks that the elephant in the room must be dealt with, rather than leaving Jerusalem to the end. In other words, Jerusalem first. By doing so, he basically started a process to divide the city and create two capitals—an Israeli one and a Palestinian one. Both are Jerusalem both are holy.
Oh, yeah, the Holy Basin hasn’t been dealt with yet. The debate on who will have sovereignty over the holy places hasn’t begun yet. But this debate is approaching, because the general division—apart from the holy places—isn’t so emotionally charged. The Jews aren’t so eager to control the Palestinian neighborhoods, and the Palestinians aren’t really interested in Gilo.
So when the festivals die down, we’ll all realize that Trump started the process ahead of Jerusalem’s division. Let’s see where we go from here.
Benny Cohen is a strategic advisor and partner in the Rimon Cohen & Co. PR firm who served as spokesperson for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.