By Refael Kubersky
On February 17th, 2016, then Republican candidate for the presidency Donald Trump declared that he would be “neutral” between Arabs and Israelis, vowing to give “one hell of a shot” in trying to broker a long overdue peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, a year into the Trump presidency, Trump has essentially sabotaged this goal after declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and both sides seem further from the table than ever before.
Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel could be described as careless at best. The move completely neglected the Palestinian claim over currently occupied East Jerusalem, which would be established as the Palestinian capital in any conceivable two state solution. The move predictably angered the Palestinian base and led to the PA refusing to engage in peace talks. Consequently, the move empowers Hamas, the radical Palestinian militant organization that holds control in the Gaza Strip and maintains influence throughout the West Bank, as more Palestinians feel neglected by a diplomatic process that now seems to be ineffective, adding to the sentiments that
only violence and hardline action will help them achieve their goals of ever establishing a state.
But even if the move had been an attempt to appeal to Israeli interests, it failed to do that as well. While the move was met with praise by political and civilian masses within Israel, the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, recently reported that the number of terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank tripled, from 84 in November to 249 in December. Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman told the Kinneset before the new year that the situation in Gaza and the West Bank would be “a highly unstable period for the next six months at least.” The unrest has undoubtedly led to higher tensions between Arabs and Israelis, a worrying sign considering that these tensions have the potential to break out into war as they have as recently as 2014.
Additionally, Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel was met with complete rejection by the world’s other main powers. The United Nations, which has already been inexplicably biased against Israel, has already acted against Trump’s decision, establishing that Trump’s declaration is null. Not only did the vast majority of the countries in the UN reject Trump’s declaration, but his declaration can only spark further prejudice against Israel in the UN, isolating Israel from the International community.
Last Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “ We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don't even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem... off the table... why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"
While Trump casually tweeting about major policy decisions is troubling, what is even more disturbing is his lack of perspective on the issue. How can he expect the Palestinians not to walk away from any peace deal after taking Jerusalem “off the table”? How could he expect Palestinians to be content with giving up their claim to East Jerusalem, which they see as their future capital. And how would cutting off Palestinian relief aid not enable Hamas to become even more influential in the Palestinian community, seeing that the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic efforts will consistently lead to further suffering.
Trump’s declaration has had little upside in establishing anything of true meaning for Israel, while at the same time creating more unrest and instability amongst Palestinians. It seems likely that Trump made this decision to appeal to his domestic political base and ignoring the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. In doing so, Trump is prioritizing his domestic popularity and seemingly never ending campaign over the welfare and safety of the people in Israel and the West Bank. Despite declaring that he will give brokering a peace deal “one hell of a shot,” Trump has instead almost surely erased any hope of bringing peace to the region during his tenure, and has acted counter to both Palestinian and ultimately Israeli interests.
Refael Kubersky is an undergraduate studying at the University of Michigan.
Cortellessa, Eric. “Trump Says He’d Be ‘Neutral’ with Israelis and Palestinians.” The Times of Israel , 18 Feb. 2016, www.timesofisrael.com/trump-says-hed-be-neutral-with-israelis-and-palestinians/.
Gross, Judah Ari. “Shin Bet Chief: After Trump Declaration, Palestinian Unrest Could Last 6 Months.” The Times of Israel , 24 Dec. 2017, www.timesofisrael.com/shin-bet-chief-west-bank-gaza-highly-unstable-after-trump-declaration/.
Liebermann, Oren, and Laura Smith-Spark. “Palestinian Officials Slam Trump Threat to Cut US Aid.” CNN , Cable News Network, 3 Jan. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/01/03/middleeast/palestinians-aid-trump-israel-intl/index.html.