Jerusalem declaration: Trump’s Christmas gift to Christians and Jews
Analysis: The US president’s recognition of Israel’s capital, which was like music to Israeli ears, may actually be aimed at paving the way for future announcements in favor of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinian President Abbas seems to understand that what’s done is done, and that violence won’t make Trump retract his statement.
We should, however, take note of the fact that President Trump did not talk about the undivided Jerusalem, but about an abstract Jerusalem, and even mentioned that his decision does not determine Jerusalem’s municipal borders as the capital of the State of Israel, nor the permanent borders of the Jewish state. His avoidance of these issues is intentional and is aimed at stressing that Trump has yet to withdraw from his plan to come up with “the deal of the century” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The avoidance to determine Jerusalem’s borders and Israel’s borders is aimed at allowing the Palestinians and the Arab states, after a certain protest period, to return and take part in the effort to revive the peace process. That’s exactly why Trump stated that the only solution he sees before his eyes is two states for two people, “if agreed to by both sides,” reminding us of a previous statement from his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, in which he says that he was open to two states or one state for two people, whatever “both parties like.” This time, he left our the one-state option and only mentioned two states for two people.
The question is why did Trump choose to make his announcement at this particular time. The White House setting indicated that the announcement’s timing was directed at Christian ears on the eve of Christmas. As the president spoke, viewers could see the Christmas trees and decorations behind him, the fireplace, as well as the US flag and the flag of the president and commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces. All this was aimed at pleasing America’s Christian citizens and showing them that Trump is keeping his election promises on the eve of his first Christmas in office.
The announcement was also intended for Jewish voters’ ears of course, and perhaps primarily for the ears of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Jewish leaders, whose support Trump needs right now to survive the difficult times he is going through at the White House.
It’s possible, however, that the announcement which was like music to Israeli ears, and rightfully so, is part of a larger Middle East strategy in which Trump intends—as he has explicitly stated—on doing things differently than his predecessors. It’s possible that purpose of the announcement was to facilitate a possibility that he would later on say things which would actually please the Palestinians, and which Israel would have to accept quietly as it has already received its own gift.
Palestinians have no real goal to achieve from riots
The issue Israel’s citizens are mostly preoccupied with right now, however, is the Palestinian response and the Arab world’s response to the announcement. A hint could be seen in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech, which may have been apologetic and angry, but did not contain any threats o calls for violence, not even a popular protest. One of the reasons is that Abbas understands what many Palestinian citizens and the Arab leaders likely understand too: What’s done is done, and the US president won’t retract his statement even if the Arab world burns and a war breaks out with Israel.
Unlike the metal detectors “intifada,” in this case there is no real goal that can be achieved through riots and violence on the street. What’s done is done, and Abbas made sure to state that it wouldn’t change anything on the ground. Abbas is right of course, and the Palestinians will likely take the hint and settle for diplomatic protest moves and for a freeze in the peace process and their relations with the United States. Allow me to predict, however, that it won’t last long and things will soon go back to normal.
These are all estimates, but in the Middle East, any move or statement which are not carefully considered, or any rocket fired by a rebellious group, could change the picture completely, which is why we must wait a few more days to see the street’s response. The Palestinians' response to President Trump’s “Balfour declaration” will be tested after the upcoming Friday prayers.
In any event, Trump won’t move the US embassy to Jerusalem any time soon. While he did declare that he had directed the State Department to begin the process, he also signed a waiver to postpone the move by six months, and the execution will have to wait a few more years.
At the moment, his declaration is purely symbolic, but symbols are meaningful too.