The main defense of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is that the president is merely acknowledging the obvious. As Trump said in his remarks yesterday, formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.” That’s not really true, as advocates of this move have long understood. The issues at stake include Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem and the Palestinian aspiration to make East Jerusalem their capital. Giving formal recognition to one side’s claim while completely ignoring the other isn’t a “recognition” of reality, but rather a blatant effort to skew things even more in favor of the side whose claim is being endorsed.
There are many “realities” that the U.S. doesn’t formally recognize around the world. I suspect most of the enthusiasts of Trump’s decision on Jerusalem wouldn’t be interested in having him formally acknowledge the “reality” that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are no longer part of Georgia or that Crimea no longer belongs to Ukraine, and I am certain they would accuse him of the worst sort of appeasement if Trump gave official recognition to those “realities.” Those things aren’t likely to change, but it doesn’t follow from this that Washington must give them formal recognition. The U.S. doesn’t recognize these “realities” because our government doesn’t accept their legitimacy. When the U.S. confers recognition on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it lends legitimacy to an illegal occupation and denies the rights of the other party to the conflict. That isn’t a “recognition of reality,” but part of an ongoing effort to change the political landscape to ensure that no Palestinian state ever comes into being. Contra Trump, that isn’t the “right thing to do,” but another example of a one-sided policy that is now even worse.