In a dramatic diversion from historic U.S. foreign policy, President Trump followed through with his campaign rhetoric. On Dec. 6 Trump announced that the U.S. would recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, subsequently moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from its current location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While Israel has claimed Jerusalem to be its capital since its founding, this decision has garnered forceful resistance from countries across the globe, including some of America’s closest allies.
This is best evidenced in the United Nations (UN) resolution passed on Dec. 21, in which 128 countries voted in support of a UN resolution condemning America’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Only eight countries followed America’s lead in opposing this resolution, while 35 nations abstained from the vote. Although Canada — unquestionably one of America’s closest allies — abstained from voting to condemn the U.S., France, the U.K. and Germany all voted in support of the resolution, signaling a great divide between the U.S. and its most important allies in one of the paramount questions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: sovereign rights over Jerusalem.
Since the creation of Israel in the Palestinian-occupied region of the Middle East in 1948, there’s been a dramatic conflict between the Israelis and the surrounding Palestinians and their Arab allies over rights to land — much of which is considered holy to Israelis professing Judaism and Palestinians practicing Islam. Throughout this conflict, many Western nations have retained hope of a “two-state solution,” in which both Israelis and Palestinians could have countries of their own, likely with each sovereign state sharing Jerusalem as its capital. The U.S. has historically supported this approach in its attempts to broker lasting peace in the region.
Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital undermines the security of the region and prospects for future peace, which is why there’s been such strong and global opposition to it. The reality is that Jerusalem isn’t a typical city; it holds tremendous religious weight, which therefore requires the international community to treat its position in the conflict with greater care than may be typical in a similar situation. Despite the Trump administration’s argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is simply a “recognition of reality,” there’s a great difference between simply interacting with Israel’s government through their institutions located in Jerusalem — as the U.S. has done for decades — and openly accepting Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as being their permanent capital. The latter hurts the prospect for peace.
By being the chief mediator in the conflict, the U.S. shouldn’t solely support either of the two nations at the expense of the other. Its only objective must be seeking permanent and lasting peace, no matter how such peace is achieved. By showing support for one side over the other, the U.S. loses its image as a trustworthy mediator, instead appearing to be a clear supporter of Israel.
This is precisely the problem with acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Palestinians and their Arab neighbors now view the U.S. as a clear supporter of the Israeli cause, rather than a proponent of lasting peace in the area. This is devastating to the peace process and has caused an increase in street violence while also having the potential to increase terrorism.
Although it’s often dangerous to boil down complex international matters into a simple analogy, doing so here may allow for a greater understanding of the concern posed by America’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Assume there are two individuals wishing to eat from the same plate of food. A mediator is brought in to solve the controversy, with the aspiration that each side will agree to eat only a portion of the food, allowing the other to eat some as well.
Yet, in parallel to the actions of the U.S. affirming Israel’s rights to Jerusalem over Palestine’s, the mediator moves the plate of food closer to one of the individuals, allowing them to pick at it while the negotiations are underway. This makes it appear as though the mediator is supporting a particular individual rather than the broader aspiration of a peaceful resolution. The person who doesn’t get access to the plate of food loses trust in the mediator, which hinders the likelihood of achieving a long-term peaceful resolution. Similarly, agreeing to accept Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is its capital hinders America’s ability to achieve everlasting peace in the area.
For a peaceful resolution to be achieved, the U.S. must respect the desires of each side. As such, the Trump administration should follow Teddy Roosevelt’s famous realization that it’s best to “speak softly” when engaging in international affairs, rather than boisterously interacting with foreign entities. After all, no good comes from openly supporting one side over the other when trying to mediate a conflict. There must be a quiet but strong effort to achieve peace that’s jointly accepted by each side.
Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t an easy task, which is why such little movement has occurred over the past few decades in ending the controversy. Yet, acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital makes it even more difficult to successfully resolve the conflict. By making a difficult situation even more challenging to solve, the Trump administration is moving farther away from achieving the ultimate goal of permanent peace in the region.
Dan Ford is a senior international affairs and international business double major. Contact Dan at email@example.com.