- President Donald Trump’s announcement of plans to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has inflamed regional leaders and drawn threats of violence against the US and Israel, but in practical terms it changes little.
- Both US political parties have long promised to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and Palestinian-aligned regional forces have long threatened violence against the US and Israel.
- Trump’s announcement allows him to tick the box on another campaign promise with no input from Congress and only at the cost of antagonizing the Muslim world, which he seems OK with.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday stirred the pot across the Muslim world on by announcing the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Inflamed regional leaders didn’t even wait for the announcement to become official before promising a violent response.
“He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel,” Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian general delegate to the UK, told the BBC on Wednesday.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister said the move “will be a major catastrophe.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan termed the move a “red line” for Muslims.
Hamas, a militant Palestinian Sunni Muslim group, used the occasion to call for another intifada, or uprising, against Israel.
An Iranian-backed militia operating in Iraq said the move would give some “legitimate reason to target American forces.” In response, US embassies across the Middle East braced for violence.
Trump’s announcement “will change nothing on the ground”
Despite the fury it provoked, “the Trump announcement will change nothing on the ground itself,” Michael Koplow, the Israel Policy Forum’s policy director wrote at the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
Israel considers Jerusalem its capital. The policy platforms of successive Democratic candidates have considered Jerusalem Israel’s capital. The US has planned since 1995 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Yet Hamas frequently calls for intifadas. Iranian-backed forces have several times attacked or imperiled US forces operating in the Middle East. Turkey and Israel had just normalized relations after a six years of difficult silence.
Absent from Trump’s speech was a timetable.
“As a practical matter, no embassy is constructed today anywhere in the world in shorter than three or four years — no embassy,” a Trump administration official told the Washington Examiner.
The US will first study sites, evaluate security concerns, and then begin a lengthy construction process that will likely stretch into the next US presidential administration.
As far as endangering the already dubious Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Trump made it clear that the US took no position on how the city should be divided between the two.
What actually happens now that the US recognizes Jerusalem
Besides inflaming an already inflamed Middle East, Trump’s announcement makes a few material changes.
As Koplow points out, it will irk the US’s Sunni Arab allies who support Palestine and don’t want to be seen as siding with the US and Israel.
Domestically, the move allows Trump to tick the box on another campaign promise completely unilaterally.
The president has total authority to conduct the type of foreign policy decision Trump made on Wednesday with no need for a lengthy legislative battle.
“Some say [past presidents] lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time,” Trump said during the announcement.
Israel is pleased by the decision. The Palestinian Authority, such as it is, protests it. Fundamentalist groups have called for violence against Israel and the US. Trump’s Secretaries of State and Defense cautioned against the move out of security concerns, but Trump is the executive.
Politically at home, Trump has executed on a promise and again demonstrated that for his administration, antagonizing the Muslim world is an acceptable price to pay.