Today, Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced plans to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a campaign pledge at the cost of regional stability, Palestinian interests, and the longstanding (if dubious) American position as a “neutral broker” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Why is this controversial?
Jerusalem is maybe the most contested land in the world. It is home to some of the most sacred sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Most of the international community considers East Jerusalem occupied territory, and Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. If and how it would be divided is a big factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To avoid taking sides, the US has always had its embassy in Tel Aviv, and called for Jerusalem’s status to be worked out during peace talks. With this announcement, Trump would reverse decades of American policy.
What are US allies saying?
That this is a bad idea. Everyone from Boris Johnson to Pope Francis has condemned the move, while Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström went ahead and called it “catastrophic.” Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, called the decision “a flagrant provocation to Muslims.” Some Arab and European leaders say it could derail hopes for resuming peace talks and lead to potentially violent protests in the region.
What is the Trump administration saying?
“Trump delivered a speech announcing “a long overdue step to advance the peace process,” which is an interesting way to frame a move that infuriated just about every other country and sparked massive protests across Palestinian territory. When built, Trump declared, the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem “will be a magnificent tribute to peace.” Which is half-correct! It will definitely be a tribute to something. But probably not peace.” (jezebel).
That Trump is following through on a campaign promise and this change aligns with the reality that most of Israel’s government is based in Jerusalem. That this doesn’t mean Trump thinks Israel has full claim to Jerusalem – something that would still have to be decided in peace talks. And that the US embassy won’t immediately move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Some think widespread protests could break out in the region and possibly in other parts of the world. US gov employees there are being told to stay home and avoid areas like Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Trump has said that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is a top priority. But US allies think this move will seriously hurt the chances of that happening. This, Trump says, constitutes “a new approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because everyone knows that’s how to fix an extremely complex and long-running problem: do the exact opposite of what you were doing, even if it is very obviously stupid.