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In the face of global criticism, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday the United States formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, a controversial decree that has been dodged by many major world leaders.
Trump marked this historic announcement as a “long overdue step” in the peace efforts in the Middle East.
“We view this a recognition of reality, both historical reality that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people, the Jewish faith, since ancient times [...] and modern reality that it has been the seat of government,” a White House official told reporters.
However, one former White House veteran feels the move to be severely misguided.
Hady Amr, a former senior adviser at the Department of Homeland Security and appointee to both the Clinton and Obama administrations, told IJR that any status change of Jerusalem is a “lose, lose, lose” maneuver across the board.
The concern here, according to Amr, being that the move undermines America's place as an independent broker of peace between the two nations.
“Peace can not be achieved without having an Arab and a Jewish attachment to Jerusalem,” Amr argued.
“To be effective in the Middle East what you need to have is a long-term strategic vision and deep understanding and it's really clear to me that the president and the immediate people around him do not have that,” he said.
Some Potential Drawbacks
Amr postulates this move is a multipronged “disaster.” The Palestinian leadership is now alienated and vulnerable and have “every incentive to walk away” from peace negotiations, he suggested.
“It's the final nail in the coffin in removing any understanding that the United States could be a fair mediator,” Amr said.
Muslim leaders are expected to be enraged at the decision, who instead find a hardline position toward Israel desirable. Government officials have been gearing up for expected outrage, with the State Department issuing a region-wide security ban Tuesday, anticipating the midweek announcement.
According to the announcement, American “government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho.”
Important world leaders continue to push back as international outrage continues to mount.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said Wednesday this destroys “the peace process and the two-state solution.” Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Bekir Bozdag labeled the capital announcement as a violent act that “is plunging the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight.”
Protestors in Istanbul gathered in front of the U.S. consulate with signs that read “Jerusalem belongs to Islam”:
Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin tweeted ahead of the speech that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was opposed to the announcement.
R.C. Hammond, communications adviser for Tillerson, did not directly deny Rogin's claim writing: “The Secretary asked the President to allow for time for the State Dept to prepare before an announcement was made. Safety is always a top consideration.” Tillerson later told reporters at Ramstein Air Base the president made a “bold move” regarding Jerusalem, according to the Associated Press.
Other officials from the State Department did not immediately respond to IJR's request for comment.
A New Bargaining Chip?
According to White House officials, this announcement is further evidence this president, unlike several who preceded him, “follows through.”
“In taking this action, President Trump fulfills a campaign promise that had been made by a number of previous presidential candidates,” said one White House official.
President Trump doubled-down on this point during his speech in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.
“Today, I am delivering,” Trump remarked with Vice President Mike Pence firmly at his side. “It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce different or better results.”
The White House believes the announcement is a step forward in bolstering Jared Kushner's overlying agenda to broker peace in the Middle East, a daunting ask Trump tasked to his son-in-law on the night of the inauguration. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can. All my life I've been hearing that’s the toughest deal to make, but I have a feeling Jared is going to do a great job,” Trump said to Kushner, husband of his daughter Ivanka.
However, Amr does see a narrow possibility for the president to flex some muscle over Israel, possibly guiding them to conceding to Palestinian wishes, like regaining control over the Gaza strip.
“Theoretically Trump could now turn to Israel and say 'Hey, I've just given you this massive gift that you've been after, now you can give us a concession for peace.'” Though Amr believes this tactic would be shallow at best, arguing Israel may never be willing to provide Palestinians with enough to wholly satisfy the conflict.
Still, officials claim the administration is “optimistic that peace can be achieved.”
“The president is committed to a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians” and “prepared to support a two-state solution if agreed to by two parties,” a White House official said.
The timing on the embassy move is unclear, with officials reporting that relocation could take “a matter of some years.” Currently, the U.S. has a consulate in Jerusalem, though the administration has no plans of simply “swapping the signs” and pushing personnel around.
As it stands, 86 countries have their diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv. America would be the first nation to break from this long-standing tradition. It's unclear at this time if any U.S. allies will follow suit.