Analysis: From Dr Jasmine Gani, lecturer at the School of International Relations at the Univeristy of St Andrews and associate director of the Centre for Syrian Studies
 

The Trump Administration’s announcement that it intends to recognise Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel has significant political ramifications for Israelis, Palestinians, but also the United States.

This decision needs to be understood through the context of US domestic politics. Firstly it reflects an election pledge made by US President Donald Trump to right-wing groups to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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Contrary to the claims by many political commentators that Trump’s pre-election promises were merely rhetorical, Trump has followed through on a number of his most controversial pledges since coming to power.

HeraldScotland:

It reflects the fact that Trump is uninterested in forging a political consensus at home; given the intense polarisation of Americans, Trump understands he has little hope in winning over his detractors and is concentrating on shoring up his popularity among his core supporters.

For now, Trump appears to be immune to the widespread criticism his decision has provoked, even from Israel’s friends and sympathisers, so long as he wins plaudits from his supporters, especially some of his financial backers, a narrow but vocal constituency.

Secondly, Trump is seeking to divert attention from revelations that his top advisors allegedly colluded with Russia to influence the US elections last November. The announcement over Jerusalem offers a convenient distraction, and explains why this particle campaign pledge has been announced so suddenly at this point in time even though it appears Washington has put in none of the diplomatic or logistical ground work necessary for such a major decision.

The fact that Washington has had to enact such a major break from seventy years of US protocol as a source of distraction demonstrates just how vulnerable this administration has become in less than a year in power.

While domestic factors have motivated this decision, the reverberations will be felt on the international front, not least for the US. The status of the Holy City - whether all or parts of it should fall under Israeli or Palestinian or even international jurisdiction - has been one of the most intractable issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, so much so that the matter has always been postponed for ‘later stages’ in any negotiation process between the parties and has thus never been directly addressed.

HeraldScotland:

Washington’s announcement therefore fundamentally undermines its role as a peace-broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, reflecting a broader pattern of withdrawal from its traditional role as a conflict mediator.

The decision from the Trump administration will of course have the gravest consequences for Israelis and Palestinians. It emboldens the hardline and extremist factions on both sides who oppose any kind of settlement and see the dispute as a zero-sum conflict.

Ideological and political extremism need enabling events to feed their claims and to mobilise their constituents - Trump’s decision is one of those enabling events. Israeli settlers who contravene international law by settling in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the annexed East Jerusalem, will see this as carte blanche to continue with an illegal and incendiary settlement programme.

Meanwhile Palestinian groups who criticised the Oslo Accords, calling it a ‘surrender’ rather than a peace process, will argue that Washington’s latest decision proves there is no point to diplomacy or compromise.

Tensions and conflict in Jerusalem have already been inflamed in recent years; this decision is likely to provoke increased protests and clashes in the city. Lest these clashes are portrayed as a ‘Jewish-Muslim’ problem, it should be highlighted that Christian Palestinian leaders have also condemned Trump’s announcement, as have some left-wing Jewish and Israeli groups in both the US and Israel.

It should also be noted that this decision from the United States is less of a watershed than at first seems, simply because the normalisation of the occupation of East Jerusalem has been gathering apace for years.

HeraldScotland:

Over 300,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem are already subjected to heavy restrictions on movement and employment, and house demolitions on numerous legal technicalities are frequent.

Only a fraction of the municipal budget is allocated to the Palestinian population in the city, while in July this year the Israeli government approved of another Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem containing 1,800 units. Such policies are already well established, and while they are validated by Trump’s decision they are hardly dependent upon it.

Moreover, the implications of this move not likely to lead to a major fall-out between the United States and leaders of Arab countries. While some condemnation or discomfort has been expressed from traditional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, they are unlikely to jeopardise their commercial and diplomatic ties over this announcement from the United States.

As is often the case, it is the local population, both Israeli and Palestinian, that is likely to suffer the consequences of external politicking.