President Trump’s announcement that the United States now officially recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has tossed the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians into a political tailspin on an unprecedented scale, while raising new tensions in the region and at worst, inciting a fresh round of violence: in that this discursive disruption could serve as a catalyst for the eruption of the third Intifada.
Also disturbing, if Trump’s rhetoric wasn’t enough, his statements further complicate the harrowing problems facing any possible peace agreement for the foreseeable future. Never have the Palestinians been more skeptical about the viability of the peace process and the prospects for a statehood than this moment. The move by the Trump administration will most certainly strengthen the hardliners’ hands not only among the Palestinians but throughout the region as the prospect for a feasible political settlement now appears far more remote, if it ever appeared likely. This may be the end the two-state solution.
Washington’s break with its traditional position — that is, the peace process and negotiations must precede before any recognition of this sort and that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in the framework of a two-state solution — is likely to confer on the Israelis a new confidence in imposing their will on the Palestinians. This reality, when combined with the absence of any progress toward a successful negotiation having to do with the borders, refugees, and security issues, at a time when illegal settlements are persistently being built on Palestinian lands, negates any support whatsoever for the Palestinian statehood in the coming years.
The withdrawal from the new settlements in East Jerusalem seems no longer feasible, in part because Jerusalem is now recognized as the capital of Israel. If anything, the move strengthens the Israelis’ hold on the West Bank as a result. Practically speaking, Israelis cannot keep new settlements in East Jerusalem, while at the same time forcing settlers in the West Bank to evacuate their residence there.
The real question is: Does this move optimize Israel’s security or does it bolster the position of belligerents in the right-wing government of Netanyahu?
At home, many—if not most—evangelical Christians, as well as some Jewish conservatives such as Sheldon Adelson, a significant donor to the Republican Party, have supported this decision. Vice President Mike Pence and some of the key evangelicals surrounding President Trump have unwaveringly supported this move. This is, however, the extent to which Trump’s decision has been embraced.
Most damning to the United States, which has long claimed to have served as an honest and neutral broker in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is that the broader sense of trust in Washington to play such a role has been fatally and irreversibly damaged. Both U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and Pope Francis at the Vatican have expressed alarm that the declaration would spark further tensions in the Holy City. The diminishment of U.S. leverage on the global political landscape is becoming increasingly clear as German officials have noted this move is likely to jeopardize their solidarity with the United States on matters relating to the Middle East. Germany’s Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has warned against such a unilateral U.S. recognition, describing it as “counterproductive” while saying that Germany would have to “spell out where the limits” of its solidarity stood. The question persists: What incentives do the Palestinians have to resume the talks about the future of Jerusalem if the results on the ground point to a fait accompli? Bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table will prove far more difficult than ever, as the growing perception in the Arab and Muslim world is that restoring peace in the Middle East has seemingly seen its last days.
Under such circumstance, the resistance and violence by the Palestinians will continue, despite Washington’s disingenuous rhetoric that it will protect Palestinian interests in possible future negotiations. Furthermore, this move is likely to upend Mahmoud Abbas’s credibility, while solidifying that of its rival faction Hamas, in part because the West Bankers will be seen as losers in any possible future deal. There can be no doubt that this move will prepare the stage for a more violent backlash against the settlers in the occupied territories and further attacks against U.S. soft targets and assets around the world.
The ongoing division between the United States and its traditional Arab and Western allies in this matter is alarming, even as the Arab world appears preoccupied with the aftereffects of the Arab Spring uprisings, including surging sectarian tensions, civil wars in Syria and Yemen and numerous uncertainties facing Libya and Egypt — not to mention the intensified regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
That said, Washington cannot even find support among Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Russia and China — countries that have expressed serious concerns about Trump’s decision, arguing that such a move could fuel tensions in the region, rendering the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority totally unpredictable and troubling in the coming years.