In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Donald Trump has not made any startling political move. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It’s where the seat of this sovereign nation is located, where government offices make their home. How could Israel’s closest ally not recognize this reality?
Indeed, our own Congress did so 22 years ago, when the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, passed the Senate and the House with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Every recent presidential candidate has voiced support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — during their campaigns, at least. That includes Barack Obama. And yet, once elected, every president has declined to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was the reason for the Jerusalem Embassy Act in the first place.
What is significant about Trump’s declaration is not what he said, but what he didn’t say. The president carefully avoided calling Jerusalem the “undivided” capital of Israel, thus leaving open the question of borders, which should be decided later, in concert with the parties directly involved. That was proper, and politic. He also specified that the status of the Temple Mount would remain unchanged. That, too, is proper and politic.
Once elected, every president has declined to move the U.S. Embassy.
There are those who say that the entire question of Jerusalem should be avoided until the final negotiations, and that the president’s statement introduces an impediment to those talks. That is nonsense. No American president would sit by and allow Jerusalem to be taken away from Israel in any final agreement; nor would Israel allow it. Where the city’s borders are to be drawn is the only Jerusalem question that will be on that table.
There are those who say that the president should not have made this statement because it will anger the Arab world and lead to more Palestinian violence. That anger and that violence will undoubtedly come to pass, and might very well have by the time this editorial is being read. But fear of such reaction should not dictate U.S. policy.
Our question, however, is why now? What does the United States gain by Trump making this statement at this time? With Jared Kushner preparing to assert himself as the region’s main peace broker, the president’s statement seems strangely provocative.
But it is not a deal-breaker and is not revolutionary. Trump may be the first sitting president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but he is simply giving voice to what the U.S. position on that question is and should be.