Breaking with decades of U.S. policy, President Donald Trump announced last week that the U.S. would officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.
The immediate response from Israel was overwhelmingly positive as Israeli Jews have claimed Jerusalem as their capital since the country’s founding in 1948. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the American president for his pronouncement, calling it a “historic decision.”
The Jewish people are “profoundly grateful,” the Israeli Prime Minister said in a televised statement, for Trump’s “courageous and just decision.” There would be no regional peace, he emphasized, without Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Israeli premier then called on all countries “who seek peace” to follow the Americans’ example, not only by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but also by moving their embassies there.
Israeli officials continue to downplay the potential negative and violent consequences that this move could have, instead casting the Americans’ decision in positive light. Some have argued that more countries are “eager” to follow suit. These potential collaborators include the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Philippines.
Hours after President Trump made his statement, the Czech Republic announced that it too would recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, noting that the city should become the capital of both Israel and the future state of Palestine.
While support for the U.S.’ decision is high in Israel, many remain skeptical of the Americans’ sincerity. Notably, Trump did not commit the U.S. to specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in his speech. The President likewise did not pair his statement with a concrete plan or timetable for moving the embassy.
Indeed, several Israeli analysts have spoken out against Trump’s decision fearing increased terrorist attacks in Jewish areas. Many also contend that the announcement has raised the impossibility of peace with the Palestinians. Writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Nir Hasson points to a huge challenge facing Israel if it is to unite the capital of Jerusalem, namely granting citizenship to 320,000 Palestinians.
Outside Israel, Jews remain far more skeptical
Other Jewish communities, mostly located outside Israel, have opposed the Trump Administration. The Reform Jewish movement in the U.S. called Trump’s move “ill-timed but expected.” In a statement, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs elaborated that even though his organization wishes to see the American embassy transferred to Jerusalem, it was not the correct time to do so given the absence of a comprehensive peace plan.
The left-wing, pro-Israel group J Street has also expressed concern over the timing of the move. In a statement, the organization argued that Jerusalem should only be recognized as the capital of Israel in the context of a two-state solution in which East Jerusalem would become the capital of Palestine. The progressive New Israel Fund also condemned the decision, calling it “a dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible move by a dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible American president,” adding that “Israelis will be the ones to pay the price.”
In France, home to the largest population of European Jews, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) and the Central Israelite Consistory of France have both called on President Macron to follow Trump’s example. They see the American move as one that should be welcomed, stating that, through his decision, the American President has simply recognized a “historical fact.” However, President Macron was quick to condemn the U.S. decision, calling it “regrettable” and a violation of “international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions.” On Friday, Macron called for calm and insisted that this recent development should not “add to the instability of the region.”
On Sunday, Macron and Netanyahu held a joint press conference in which the French President reiterated his disapproval. Standing his ground, Netanyahu reminded Macron that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and emphasized that peace would not be possible unless the Palestinians accepted Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Such a hard stance clearly makes achieving a peace agreement difficult, as neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis seem to see any room for negotiating Jerusalem’s status.
Trump spurs the far right in Israel
As the future for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems bleaker, more violence and turmoil is likely to plague the region. It remains to be seen if this situation can be resolved through diplomacy or if feelings of nationalism from both sides will make talks impossible.
Over the past two decades, the Israeli public has been shifting increasingly towards the right and feelings of unmitigated patriotism have continued to rise since Netanyahu was first elected in 2009.
According to David Sheen, an expert on the Israeli far right, Trump’s decision could cause center-left parties to shift rightward and make right-wing parties move towards the extreme-right. Speaking to Al-Jazeera, he explained that in the past some parties chose to orient themselves around the center to avoid alienating the U.S., their most important ally. But, under the new administration, the U.S. has fallen in line with the hard-line positions of the Israeli right. Such a shift is likely to make center and center-left parties comfortable with taking a more nationalistic approach to politics.
A rightward shift would likely spur the construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories. Two days after Trump’s announcement, Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant publicly disclosed a plan to build 14,000 new settlement units in occupied Jerusalem. An additional 7,000 settlements are set to be approved this week.
Trump’s decision is also likely to intensify Jerusalem’s religious symbolism for the Jewish people, including the importance of Israeli sovereignty over the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Such actions would further deepen the divide between Jews and Muslims, increasing violence and making a two-state solution practically impossible.
The shifting American stance, coupled with increased nationalist policies in Israel, is likely to strengthen the Israeli right and widen its base. An increasingly strong, right-wing populace that supports more settlements on Palestinian territory and exploits feelings of nationalism will bring nothing good for the future of either Israel or Palestine. A vicious cycle of hatred and violence is set to break out after this decision, and, for now, a possible solution to this issue seems unlikely.
Vice President Mike Pence is set to arrive in Israel on December 17 where he will address the Knesset. He should use this opportunity to give the Palestinians some assurance that the U.S. is not forgetting, ignoring, or plotting against them. However, given the administration’s current rhetoric, his visit will presumably make things worse. ♦
Gabriela Bernal is a contributing writer to the Paris Globalist and a graduate student at the Paris School of International Affairs.