Trump and Jerusalem: Breaking a consensus

Not all are thrilled about the prospect of a different approach.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In business, they say, it’s all about the leverage.
This is something worth keeping in mind when considering what US President Donald Trump – who at his very core is a businessman – will do on the Jerusalem issue.
Because if, as some are speculating, he will “split the difference” on the issue – meaning that he will not move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but will issue a statement in the coming days recognizing at least part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – then this would give him leverage going forward with his peace plan with both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
If the Palestinians prove inflexible in negotiations, he could hang over their head the prospect of not only issuing a declaration of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but also actually moving the embassy. By the same token, he could threaten Israel – if he thought it was the recalcitrant party in negotiations – with not moving the embassy.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and his main point man on the Mideast diplomatic process, revealed nothing about the plan the administration is working on in an interview with Haim Saban on Sunday at the Saban Forum in Washington. Not only did he say that Trump was still “looking at a lot of different facts” concerning the Jerusalem decision, he provided no details at all about the parameters of the peace plan the team was considering.
Senior Trump Advisor Jared Kushner speaks at the Saban Forum (Brookings Institution/YouTube)
One thing he did say, however, is that his team – a team Saban spoke condescendingly of as one with lawyers but no Mideast experts – is trying to do things differently.
“We’ve been deliberate about not setting time frames,” Kushner said, “about not trying to do this the way it’s been done before, so we have more room and opportunity to hopefully be successful.”
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – even if it did not include moving the embassy to Jerusalem – would definitely constitute not doing things as they’ve been done before.
At least not doing things the way the Americans have done them before.
Moscow set a precedent for this in April when it announced that it was recognizing west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though at the same opportunity it reaffirmed its “commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which includes the status of east Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.”
Still, Russia became the first country in the world to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and no one batted an eyelid.
Obviously, a different reaction would await any similar American move, with the Palestinians threatening to cut the US out of the peace process, and both they and the Arab world warning of violence.
Eran Lerman, the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a former deputy head of the National Security Council, said in a conference call put together by the Israel Project, that such threats are likely to have little impact on this administration.
Furthermore, he said, “both sides of the Ramallah-Gaza divide have no wish for another round of violence, certainly not because of a symbolic reason that basically changes nothing on the ground.”
As for the Arab world, nobody in the Arab leadership is eager to confront Trump at this stage, Lerman maintained, adding that he believes Saudi Arabia would “support an American initiative that helps the Palestinians adjust their expectations to a level that is deliverable and implementable.”
And that, in the final analysis, would be the true significance of a US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: It would send a strong message to the Palestinians that their dream of rewriting history so that it does not include any Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem is simply not going to work. Such a recognition would correct a historical anomaly that denies Israel the right to say where its capital is, and it would serve as important recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.
With such recognition, Lerman said, the US would go a long way toward debunking the idea “that somehow this is not a negotiation between two sides, but an international court of law in which Israel is in the dock.”
In other words, it is doing things differently.
Not all, however, are thrilled about the prospect of a different approach.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that under the plan being drawn up by the White House, “The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.”
The tone of the report was one of being aghast that the Trump administration would consider a plan that did not meet Palestinian maximalist demands, or fall into line with how the peace process has been handled for the last 25 years.
“But the news on Friday that Mr. Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital suggested that ideas once considered beyond the pale are now seriously being considered,” the Times said. “Recognizing an Israeli capital there, even without explicitly denying the Palestinians one, would overturn decades of consensus among international peacemakers that any change in Jerusalem’s status must come as part of a negotiated deal.”
What is worth noting, however, is that the “decades of consensus” among international peacemakers has led nowhere. Perhaps breaking with that decades-old consensus is what is needed, which is something Trump will do if he goes ahead and recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.