Earlier this week news broke that President Donald Trump would be making moves to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His decision was immediately met with condemnation from both allies and enemies of the United States.
And sure enough, President Trump made the announcement on Wednesday in a speech that included more than just the official announcement of his potentially catastrophic decision; it also featured Trump speaking in a bizarre, slurred manner that left many on the internet guessing what the hell was going on with him. False teeth? Drunk? Dry mouth? Who knows?
But more important than Trump’s terrible Sean Connery impression is his decision to abandon what has been the standard position of the United States for decades on foreign affairs with Israel. It should be noted though, that it has not come out of the blue. Trump has been talking about it since before he took office. Additional reports have come in that allege he has talked about it throughout the last several months at various times in private meetings.
But the fallout from Trump’s announcement was swift. Backlash from world leaders in Europe and the Middle East came flooding in. Pope Francis expressed “profound concern” over Trump’s decision, and said that he prayed “wisdom and caution will prevail so as to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world… already convoluted and marred by many cruel conflicts.”
Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, said that Jerusalem’s status “should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” She promised that she would reach out to Trump to discuss the matter with him. Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said Trump’s plan was “counterproductive.”
The deputy prime minister of Turkey, Bekir Bozdag, said that Trump’s decision was an act of “madness” and that it would “plunge the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight.” And Jordan’s King Abdullah said that it would “provoke Muslims and Christians alike.”
The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, reportedly warned Trump via a phone call that there would be “dangerous consequences” for peace efforts and overall stability in the region if the embassy was moved, according to spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh.
As all this backlash continues to pour in, advisers in the White House are, if reports are correct, questioning whether or not Trump even understands what his announcement might mean for global relations. What a comforting thought that is…
Since the 1978 Camp David Accords, presidents of the United States have refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or move the U.S. Embassy. The position of past presidents, a position endorsed by the international community, has been that the embassy should only be moved after a final peace is brokered between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Peace has not been reached, however, because while the Jews claim all of Jerusalem for themselves, as it is the holiest site in their faith, Muslims lay a claim to the city because it is the location of the third holiest site in Islam. They desire the eastern section of Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state. The city also boasts a population of Christians, and the city houses sacred sites for Christianity as well, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
So, to clarify, it all comes down to religious claims on land that no one is willing to give up. To paraphrase Sam Harris, all this violent madness is due to God’s decision to act as an omnipotent real estate broker.
According to some reports, Trump may have made the announcement simply to appease donors and to come through on at least one of his campaign promises as a way to cling to the support of his base. He needs some support as the investigation into collusion with Russia continues to heat up.
To the surprise of no one, except maybe Trump, the announcement quickly led to violence in Israel between Palestinians and Israeli forces. Palestinians took to the streets to burn photos of Trump and the Palestinian Authority called for a general strike in Palestinian cities. In Gaza, the Islamist Hamas incited its followers to begin an intifada, or revolt, against Israel.
The Palestinian city of Ramallah has been seeing clashes between Israeli forces and protesters where dozens of rounds of tear gas and stun grenades have been used against the crowds.
In Eastern Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and in areas along the West Bank violence is spreading as enraged Palestinians rise up to defend their claims on Jerusalem. In response, Israel’s army has announced that it is mobilizing an increased troop deployment in the West Bank.
You may or may not remember that Trump tasked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with the Herculean task of brokering peace in the Middle East. Even if Kushner could have pulled that off before (there was no chance he was going to), it is definitely not going to happen now. The first step towards peace in Israel was unlikely to ever be “kickstarting a whole new round of violent clashes all over Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
The United Nations Security Council is convening an emergency meeting today to discuss the issue. I imagine the discussion will begin with lots of hand-wringing and exasperated cries of anguish.
So... what happens next? That is really hard to say. While some of the more “apocalyptic” warnings may be a bit overblown, it is hard to say what could happen with no historical precedent to turn to. President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has historically supported more peaceful negotiation, a stance that has given him political legitimacy, but has also allowed Israel to encroach more and more as they occupy war-won land. The possibility of peacefully negotiating statehood for Palestine with a capital in the eastern section of Jerusalem seems further from reach than ever. Abbas will have to come to terms with that and decide how to proceed.
Whatever happens in the wake of Trump's decision, it is likely going to involve a lot more violence before it gets better.