In the debate over a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, no issue is more charged with emotion than the future of Jerusalem. Should the holy city be the capital of the Israelis alone or shared with the Palestinians?
Yet now, with no serious peace talks underway, President Trump is reportedly planning to grant the Israelis’ wish and confound the Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there from Tel Aviv, thereby tossing aside decades of American diplomacy. Why?
Mr. Trump insists he is committed to achieving the “ultimate” Middle East peace agreement that eluded his predecessors. But his decision to tip the scales toward Israel on this critical matter, communicated to Arab and Israeli leaders on Tuesday, almost certainly will make an agreement harder to reach by inflaming doubts about America’s honesty and fairness as a broker in negotiations, raising new tension in the region and perhaps inciting violence.
Although Israel’s government has been located in Jerusalem since its founding in 1948, the United States, like the rest of the world, hasn’t recognized the city as Israeli territory, even after the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, when Israel drove back Jordan from East Jerusalem and occupied it. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel promised to negotiate Jerusalem’s future as part of a peace agreement. It has been assumed that under any deal, the city would remain its capital.
Palestinians anticipated being able to locate their capital in East Jerusalem and to have access to Muslim holy sites there. East Jerusalem was exclusively Arab in 1967, but Israel has steadily built settlements there, placing some 200,000 of its citizens among the Arab population and complicating any possible peace agreement.
Mr. Trump boasts of being a consummate dealmaker, but dealmakers don’t usually make concessions before negotiations begin, as the president has here. The big winner is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, whose hard-line government has shown no serious interest in peace, at least not a two-state solution that could win Palestinian support. The blowback was swift. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, warned of “dangerous consequences” to the peace process, while Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the royal palace said, cautioned against the move, “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world.” Turkey threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel; other criticism came from Egypt, the Arab League and France. King Salman of Saudi Arabia told Mr. Trump a decision on Jerusalem before a final peace deal would hurt talks and increase regional tensions.