Trump’s Jerusalem call: Why now and who benefits?

BY APD NEWSDec 07,2017 at 15:37

US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and set in motion a plan to move the US embassy to the city has sparked condemnation across the world.

Trump said he had "judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

However the international community – with the exception of Israel – broadly disagrees. Even senior White House officials conceded that the peace process had been “temporarily derailed”, according to a CNN report.

But Trumps' decision begs the questions: why now and who benefits?

Why now?

The Trump campaign and presidency has been notable for its litany of unorthodox decisions, announcements and tweets.

Were these parts of a broader strategy or short term deflections?

The move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital comes as the Russia inquiry gathers steam at home and ahead of a neck-and-neck senate election in the conservative state of Alabama.

But more prosaically, the deadline to sign a six-month waiver, repeatedly signed by US presidents since a 1995 Congressional call for the embassy to be moved, was approaching.

Trump has been intensively lobbied by evangelicals ahead of the deadline to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions, conservative activists told Reuters.

“I have no doubt that evangelicals played a meaningful role in this decision,” said Johnnie Moore, a spokesman for a council of leading evangelicals that advises the White House. “I don’t believe it would have happened without them.”

The decision reportedly prompted division within the White House, with evangelical Vice President Mike Pence lobbying for the policy change while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued for the status quo.

Who benfits?

United States

The decision to act – like all Trump’s significant foreign policy moves so far – appears to be tailored squarely for a domestic audience. And as Trump noted, it fulfills a campaign promise.

At home, the decision is backed by Trump’s voter and donor base. The white evangelical vote was an important part of Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, with the bloc supporting him over rival Hillary Clinton by a margin of 81-16 according to Pew Research.

Middle East

The Trump administration is – under the direction of Jared Kushner – thought to be drafting a peace plan and the president said the US wanted to help craft a deal acceptable to both Israel and Palestine.

But the decision, celebrated by Israel but condemned by Palestine and the international community, appears to have done nothing to assist this process.

Palestinians watch a televised broadcast of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech, in the West Bank city of Nablus on December 6, 2017.

Palestinians watch a televised broadcast of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech, in the West Bank city of Nablus on December 6, 2017.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah warned that the move "will fuel conflict and increase violence in the entire region."

Trump insisted that the US was not taking a position on the final status of Jerusalem, while also only saying that a two-state solution would be supported if both sides agreed.

He didn’t specify support for a two-state solution, despite it being the US policy for years.

For Israel, Trump's decision is a victory which it appears to have given nothing up to achieve. For Palestine, the move seems one-sided.

Some Palestinian officials speculate that the White House may have a broader deal in mind, according to CNN analyst Tim Lister, who suggested that the administration may be seeking to form a broad coalition of Gulf monarchies and Israel to counter Iran. Yet the decision has been met with angry responses from across the region.

International brokers

Saudi Arabia said on Thursday that the US move “violates” the US neutral position regarding Jerusalem, while Palestinian leaders said the decision “disqualified” the US from mediating in the peace process.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the US was making a "declaration of withdrawal" from the peace process. A void may have been created for a new broker to fill.

President Emmanuel Macron, emboldened after taking a key role in mediating during the recent saga in Lebanon, appears eager to act in the region.

He said on the day Prime Minister Hariri arrived in Paris that France would focus on “peace building,” and avoid “interfering in any national or regional divisions, or choosing one side against the other.”

Russia, meanwhile, has played a key role in the Syrian conflict and worked to bring a resolution through the Astana talks.


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