Experts react to Trump’s Jerusalem decision: A diplomatic upgrade or end of the peace process?

Former US negotiators and experts who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were divided in their assessment of Mr Trump’s decision

Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, walks through the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. House and Senate lawmakers plan to begin working this week on compromise tax-overhaul legislation -- a key step in their drive to send a package of tax cuts for corporations and individuals to President Donald Trump by the end of the year. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg
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US President Donald Trump threw another political bombshell into the Middle East sphere on Wednesday, upending Washington’s longtime cautious position by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiating the move of the US embassy in the years to come.

Former US negotiators and experts who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were divided in their assessment of Mr Trump’s decision. While some told The National it undermines the US standing and credibility, others viewed it as a natural diplomatic and political move that enjoys a mandate from US Congress.

Dennis Ross, former US envoy and current Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The challenge for the Trump Administration now is to make very clear that the final status of Jerusalem must still be negotiated and that the the president’s statement in no way prejudges the outcome in Jerusalem or prejudices Palestinian claims and rights in the city. The fact that he said that the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem must be negotiated indicates that competing Israeli and Palestinian claims must be resolved through negotiations. But reaffirmation and repetition of these points to Arab audiences will be needed to counteract the effort by some to say the US has simply adopted Israel’s position.

Martin Indyk, former US envoy, and current executive vice president of the Brookings Institution

This is a decision bound to make everybody unhappy at best and very angry at worst. Palestinian aspirations In Jerusalem appear to be ignored. Israeli claims to the sovereignty over the Temple Mount appear to go unrecognised. Recognition appears to be ethereal rather than geographical since it “doesn’t touch boundaries”. This decision is too clever by half.


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Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights,

A decision such as this is both morally wrong and politically dangerous. Not only is Donald Trump deliberately insulting the Palestinian people, but also Arabs and Muslims around the world. In doing so, he is relinquishing what little credibility the United States had left in a region that is already rife with conflict and division. The United States has attempted to shepherd the so-called “peace process” on the basis that it can play the role of mediator but by clearly adopting an Israeli position as its own, it makes clear it is not even pretending anymore.

Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute

Jerusalem is more a symbol than a territorial negotiation. And Talmudic debates about the relative holiness of the Temple Mount, or Haram el Sharif to Muslims, versus the established holiness of the site to the Second Temple to Jews, are just that. Talmudic. These are religious matters, and should not factor into diplomatic or political negotiations. Why? Because diplomats have no place adjudicating holiness. Seems obvious, no?

So why are we fussing about this Trump decision? Partly because many do not in fact accept the legitimacy of Israeli rule over any part of Jerusalem, an argument that should be unacceptable to Americans.

Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies  

While the announcement was a win for Israel and therefore a disappointment to the Palestinians, the announcement does not do anything to challenge Palestinian, Arab or Muslim claims on Jerusalem. It is merely a determination of where America will conduct its diplomatic business. It is for this reason I believe the response has been hysterical and wildly out of proportion.

Randa Slim, director of the Track II Dialogues initiative at The Middle East Institute

Donald Trump’s decision at least clarifies the situation- declares the peace process officially over & removes any remaining doubt about the US third party role as a fair mediator.

This also represents the end of the road for the Palestinian political camp that advocated for negotiations.

Congress reaction

In Congress, which voted in 1995 to pass the Jerusalem Embassy Act preempting Mr Trump’s decision, this was a welcome announcement by Republicans while the Democrats were divided around its implications.

House majority leader Paul Ryan doubled down on Mr Trump’s step,  saying “Jerusalem has been, and always will be, the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel.” “Today’s announcement is a recognition of reality that in no way inhibits efforts to reach a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians” he said. The move was also welcomed by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican but a critic of Mr Trump’s foreign policy.

On the Democrats’ side, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer approved telling the Weekly Standard he advised Mr Trump of making the announcement. However, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California opposed  emphasising that “the president’s decision to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital rejects decades of bipartisan policy and undermines our standing with Palestinians and regional partners”.

For his part Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, a vocal critic of many Israeli policies, issued a statement regretting Mr Trump’s decision. “There’s a reason why all past U.S. administrations have avoided making this move, and why leaders from all over the world, including a group of former Israeli ambassadors, have warned Trump against doing it”, Mr Sanders said. “It would dramatically undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage the United States’ ability to broker that peace. What the US should be doing now is bringing adversaries in the Middle East together to seek common solutions, not exacerbating tensions in this highly volatile region” he said.