Both Parties Pushed Trump Toward Reckless Action on Jerusalem

Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a White House meeting. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

Both Parties Pushed Trump Toward Reckless Action on Jerusalem

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital further threatens Israeli-Palestinian peace, breaks international law, and risks a violent and destabilizing reaction in the region—which may be exactly the plan

President Trump announced on Wednesday that the United States will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that the U.S. embassy would be moved to that multi-ethnic and multi-faith city. No other government in the world formally recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital or has its embassy there, instead basing their diplomatic offices in Tel Aviv.

Observers familiar with this volatile issue agree the decision further reduces the chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace, raises serious questions in relation to international law, and risks a violent and destabilizing reaction targeting U.S. interests globally.

In the 1947 United Nations partition plan, Palestine was to have been divided between a Jewish and Arab state, with Jerusalem and surrounding areas designated as an international territory under U.N. administration. Instead--as a result of the first Arab-Israeli War--by 1949 Israel had annexed the western part of the area and Jordan the eastern part, but the international community refused to acknowledge either claim. Following the Israeli conquests of 1967, Israel annexed Palestinian-populated East Jerusalem and surrounding lands as well.

Though Trump's announcement did not explicitly recognize Israel's annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, the Israelis have long insisted that recognizing Jerusalem as its capital means recognizing the entire city under their exclusive control.

No government outside Israel recognizes this illegal annexation or supports the idea of a Jerusalem united under exclusive Israeli sovereignty. Until now.

No government outside Israel recognizes this illegal annexation or supports the idea of a Jerusalem united under exclusive Israeli sovereignty. Until now.

The near-universal opposition to Trump's decision by much of the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishment is not out of concern for the fate of the Palestinians or international law. Rather, they fear that effectively recognizing exclusive Israel control over the third holiest city in Islam will provoke a backlash throughout the Islamic world. Reactionary clerics and other Islamist extremists, building on centuries of resentment going back to the Jerusalem's conquest by the Crusaders nearly a millennium ago, will likely take advantage of popular outrage over the decision to encourage violent attacks, including terrorism, targeting U.S. interests.

In fact, Trump may be seeking just such an outcome. Since launching his presidential campaign, he has gone to great lengths to stoke bigotry and fear against Muslims, as exemplified in his recent decision to retweet misleading anti-Muslim videos compiled by a British neo-fascist group. Any rioting and acts of terrorism by Muslims in reaction to Trump's decision would only reinforce his narrative and his agenda for restricting immigration and bombing Muslim countries.

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