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Trump’s Costly Jerusalem Blunder

Trump confirmed [1] 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 [2] some of those possible consequences in my recent posts [3] 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 [4] 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.

26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "Trump’s Costly Jerusalem Blunder"

#1 Comment By Jeremy 2 On December 5, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

And yet Trump supporters claim he’s a bulwark against neoconservatism.

#2 Comment By rayray On December 5, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

For Trump it has multiple virtues…as Larison pointed out it gets him the praise of the hard-liners who seem like the kind of “tough guys” he likes align with. It also infuriates the kind of “peacemakers” that he doesn’t respect. And further, it creates the kind of noisy chaos that is his natural habitat.

As we’ve all seen with people with his age range of maturity, he’ll do anything, create any distraction whatsoever, if it means he doesn’t have to do his homework.

#3 Comment By victory over eurasia On December 5, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

don’t forget, another plus in the buffoon’s mind is that it will aggravate all of those smartypants types who actually have some factual and objective knowledge of the politics and the issues in the region, and aggravate the arab nations. Ignorance, resentment, racism/sectarianism, the three pillars of today’s GOP

#4 Comment By CharleyCarp On December 5, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

| Daniel, did you see the ABC report on the role David Satterfield played in getting Saad Hariri freed from house arrest in Saudia? What did you think? |>

#5 Comment By sherparick On December 5, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

This is part of Trump’s New York Wise Guys ethos. He is being nice to his friends who have been nice to him: Sheldon Adelson; his former lawyer who is now Ambassador Israel; his son-in-law; and the Christian Fundamental Zionists, who are the base of his support and believe Israel and making its capital Jerusalem is precondition for the Second Coming. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have not been been nice to him, nor Muslims in general, so this is also a symbolic finger in their face, e.g. a simple dominance display. This is the kind of President we have now, who finds his leadership examples in John Giotti and fictional characters like Michael Corleone (although he is far more like Sonny).

#6 Comment By sing On December 5, 2017 @ 4:15 pm

Happenstance the other tab I have open on the issue is by Miko Peled is a writer and human rights activist. He is an international speaker and the author of “The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”.

#7 Comment By Known Knowns On December 5, 2017 @ 4:26 pm

I think he’s doing it to show the Palestinians how far he’s willing to go for Israel if the Palestinians don’t cave to all the Kushner/Israel demands at the prospective “Peace Talks”.

#8 Comment By Dee On December 5, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

This is a disaster, a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.. I defy anyone to name a politician who will want to run a campaign by saying the US should be “neutral”, return the embassy to Tel Aviv, and broker some sort of peace.. And for what benefit to US?? What a godsend to the jihadis.

#9 Comment By EarlyBird On December 5, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

Upset and chaos. It’s just what the Donald does.

#10 Comment By trump translated On December 5, 2017 @ 8:14 pm

@Known Knowns

Makes sense. Trump wants son-in-law to pull off the Great Middle East Peace Deal, and he figures it would help if he completely intimidated the Palestinians from the get go.

Move the embassy – something no president has been willing to do. See? I did it. I’m a crazy bastard, and I’ll do even crazier stuff if you don’t sign on the dotted line. We’re completely in Israel’s corner now. No one’s going to help you, including Saudi Arabia. See what we’re doing to Yemen? We can do that to you too! So bend over and take whatever Jared and Bibi have cooked up for you. And then disappear, please. Israel wants the rest of your land.

#11 Comment By Whine Merchant On December 5, 2017 @ 8:51 pm

He is playing Netanyahu’s game: this will help to shield Bibi from the pending corruption charges against him.

This will also satisfy AIPAC and their bought-and-paid-for cronies who are hoping this announcement will provoke a backlash sufficient for the war hawks to get their Gulf of Tonkin moment and ‘punish’ Iran.

Thank you –

#12 Comment By cstahnke On December 5, 2017 @ 9:49 pm

First no one in the American FP establishment in a leadership position has the slightest interest in “peace” between the Israeli state and its subject population and that has been the case since the scuttling of the Oslo Accords by Bill Clinton (in effect). After that there was no way. The U.S. would not freeze settlements so game over. As for Jerusalem–it really doesn’t matter except that it is a symbolic middle-finger at the Islamic world and will make it much harder for the “moderate” Arabs and others to maintain some kind of moral leadership within the Islamic world but at this point I don’t know that it matters except perhaps in Turkey which is moving away from the U.S./Saudi/Israel axis and this may be the crisis Erdogan is waiting for. We’ll see.

#13 Comment By Lenny On December 5, 2017 @ 11:17 pm

Iran must be laughing out loud

This will spell the end for the Saudis.Iran will use this like a baton to hammer the Saudis with at every single turn while the fundamentalists in the Kingdom will demand the overthrow of the American puppets

#14 Comment By bkh On December 6, 2017 @ 8:31 am

Some terrorists will a new reason protest. Some hard line Arabs will complain. Erdogan could make up his own reason to pull farther away from some more moderate mid-east stances and get away with it. The typical group of Europeans will gripe. No doubt some Christian Zionists are rejoicing thinking it will force God’s hand in some way or the other – it won’t. Regardless, this will be water under the bridge soon when everyone realizes nothing has changed except the location of a building.

#15 Comment By location location location On December 6, 2017 @ 10:09 am

“Regardless, this will be water under the bridge soon when everyone realizes nothing has changed except the location of a building.”

… and all South Carolina wanted Lincoln to do was move the Federal installation at Ft. Sumter up north somewhere. All “water under the bridge” now of course …

In case you hadn’t noticed before, the “location of a building” in the Middle East can be all-important. (See under “Church of the Holy Sepulchre”, for example.)

#16 Comment By ElizaJane On December 6, 2017 @ 10:13 am

Am I the only person who thinks he’s mostly just trying to distract attention from the Deutsche Bank subpoena, and that this is actually a preferable way to do it than initiating a preventive war with NK (which may yet happen)?

#17 Comment By No More On December 6, 2017 @ 10:34 am

I’ve stayed with him this far.

But this is too much.

He is effectively guaranteeing that America will be at war and under terror threat for the rest of my life.

#18 Comment By What He Does All Day On December 6, 2017 @ 10:42 am

Now I know why Trump hasn’t done any of the “America First” stuff he promised us.

It’s because he’s been sitting in the Oval Office, wracking his brain, trying to concoct something even more stupid and self-destructive than the Iraq War.

Not bad for a first effort!

#19 Comment By Jon On December 6, 2017 @ 11:58 am

On the other hand, this might help build the impetus to push for a Palestinian capital in the same city and maybe also the drive to make Jerusalem into an international capital under the auspices of the United Nations. Okay, wishful thinking . . . However the cause for moving the Authority from Ramallah to East Jerusalem has been given a great boost.

#20 Comment By Thaomas On December 6, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

A good example of Trump’s failure to be constrained by “political correctness.” It’s called “correctness” because it is correct.

#21 Comment By KXB On December 6, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

While this is a bad idea, I do not see a downside for Trump. He has kept a promise to his backers, particularly AIPAC and evangelicals. The GOP has been quietly wanting this. The key Democrat donors, like Haim Saiban, wanted this too. There will be objections for the FP crowd in DC – but their conventional wisdom has been disasterous for the US and the Middle East.

Basically, Trump is replacing our bad, barely manageable situation in the Middle East and trying something new. If there is violence and it is limited to the Middle East, he will have lost nothing.

But – keep in mind US policies in the Middle East often blowback in the US in unexpected ways. Not always huge attacks like 9/11. When Bobby Kennedy announced he would sell advanced fighter jets to Israel in 68, that was enough for Sirhan Sirhan to gun him down in a California hotel. Nixon airlifted weapons to Israel in the Yom Kippur War, and US consumers were hit with an oil embargo.

#22 Comment By liberal On December 6, 2017 @ 12:13 pm

cstahnke wrote,

First no one in the American FP establishment in a leadership position has the slightest interest in “peace” between the Israeli state and its subject population and that has been the case since the scuttling of the Oslo Accords by Bill Clinton (in effect). After that there was no way. The U.S. would not freeze settlements so game over.

Yeah. A lot of the people I read who I respect think that the two-state solution has been dead for awhile.

#23 Comment By ExpatJim On December 6, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

Can’t understand why he is doing it? Follow the money.

#24 Comment By One Guy On December 6, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

He’s doing it just like he built the wall, locked her up, and repealed Obamacare. Which is to say, he SAYS he’s doing it, but really, he’s not doing it. The story out of the White House is that these things take time; they have to find a site for the embassy, design the building, build the building, etc. etc. Meanwhile, things continue as they always have, except he has one more thing to talk about that he’s done, except that he hasn’t done it. And his base doesn’t notice that there’s no wall, Obamacare still exists, Muslims are immigrating, and Hillary is still a free woman.

#25 Comment By Waz On December 6, 2017 @ 11:06 pm

@One Guy

Yes, all he’s campaign promises may indeed dissolve. You can be sure this one will not.
Pro-Israeli political decisions in any branch of government are essentially irreversible. They can only be ratcheted up. No politician will dare do otherwise.

#26 Comment By things change On December 7, 2017 @ 7:22 pm

“Pro-Israeli political decisions in any branch of government are essentially irreversible. They can only be ratcheted up. No politician will dare do otherwise.”

I don’t know about that any more. We could be nearing a tipping point on Israel not unlike the one we just hit with sex predators. The dam’s going to break at some point. It’s been going on and on and on, people are sick of it, sick of it being brushed under the rug and pooh-poohed. Sick of the powerful getting away with corruption because they’re powerful. What used to be muttering is becoming more full-throated, and there are more and more intelligent, articulate, experienced and credentialed people involved, and they span the political spectrum.

We’ve been fighting Middle East wars because of or related to Israel for nearly sixteen years now. Trump just starred in a global TV show where for no bloody good reason except to make Israel fanatics happy he did something that endangered every American, and the next day an enraged Arab world erupts in renewed threats of violence. It’s not unlike the moment in the environmental movement when the Cuyahoga River actually caught fire – Joe and Jane Citizen finally get it. They can’t possibly NOT get it. Trump just drew them a picture.