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Trump’s Costly Jerusalem Blunder

Trump confirmed his intention to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this week in a series of calls with regional leaders:

President Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders on Tuesday that he plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a symbolically fraught move that would upend decades of American policy and upset efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Trump is expected to announce his decision on Wednesday, two days after the expiration of a deadline for him to decide whether to keep the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

If Trump goes through with this, it will be a terrible blunder that could have dire consequences for all concerned. I have listed some of those possible consequences in my recent posts on the subject, and I fear that the reactions to this decision could be much worse than most of us expect. Doing this would destroy any remaining illusions that the U.S. could be a responsible mediator in this conflict. The U.S. has never been an “honest broker” between the two sides, and this would do away with that pretense once and for all. This decision would impose significant diplomatic costs on the U.S. that will make it harder to advance American interests in many parts of the world, and American diplomats will be at higher risk of attack because of it.

Shibley Telhami considers the news of Trump’s upcoming decision, and wonders why he is doing it:

No one, not even President Donald Trump, is arguing that such a move would be helpful to American Middle East policy. This begs the question: Why is Trump doing this?

Trump certainly doesn’t need to solidify his pro-Israel credentials; three of his key Middle East advisers are known to be sympathetic with the Israeli right. More importantly, the American public, including his Republican core, already thinks his policy is pro-Israel.

I sympathize with Telhami’s exasperation, but I may have some suggestions for why Trump wants to do this. Trump is a “pro-Israel” hawk surrounded by pro-settler hard-liners, so his instinct is to indulge Israel at the expense of its neighbors. This decision would do that and more. Despite his talk about wanting to make a deal between Israelis and Palestinians, Trump has obvious contempt for successful diplomacy that requires compromise, so telling him that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would destroy the chances of a peace agreement doesn’t mean anything to him. He is a fan of taking unilateral action, and he thinks that he can pressure others into making concessions by breaking existing U.S. commitments. On foreign policy, Trump has often made a point of doing the opposite of whatever Obama did, and insofar as Obama was perceived as being too “tough” on Israel Trump wants to go as far in the other direction as he possibly can. In the end, it is probably the desire for praise and flattery that matters most to him. There is no benefit for the U.S. to be had in any of this, but Trump is doing it just so that hard-liners will congratulate him for being an extremely “pro-Israel” president.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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