By Mohamed Mohamed
Every six months since 1995, American presidents have signed a waiver delaying the implementation of a law which requires the U.S. embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem, since doing so would destabilize the region further, which in turn harms U.S. national security interests.
President Donald Trump issued the waiver in June, but insisted that he will eventually move the embassy as promised during his election campaign. Monday, December 4 was the latest deadline, but the White House made no announcement about whether or not the waiver was signed.
This raised concern among Palestinians and others throughout the world, including European allies of Israel, that Trump may indeed alter the status of Jerusalem by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the city. Israel annexed Jerusalem illegally under international law, which is why no country in the world recognizes it as the Israeli capital and why all embassies are in Tel Aviv.
Reports emerged on Tuesday that Trump informed Arab and Israeli leaders that he plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The President’s predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, have always signed the waiver and upheld the consensus on Jerusalem’s status, but Trump seems to be set on deviating from this longstanding policy and living up to his reputation as an unconventional president.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the conflict, and recognizing the city as Israel’s capital is an absolute deal-breaker for Palestinians. Anyone with basic knowledge of the conflict knows this. It is such a cornerstone of their struggle that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, usually bitter rivals, have expressed solidarity on this issue in a rare phone call between their leaders.
To make matters worse, legitimizing the occupation of Jerusalem provides implicit support for Israeli settlements, since there are now over 200,000 settlers colonizing Palestinian land in East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and pose a huge problem for Palestinians, so any endorsement of the Israeli settler-colonial project is also a deal-breaker.
Even if Trump were to backtrack and maintain the status quo, it is astonishing that he would so much as hint at making such a move after claiming to be committed to brokering the “ultimate deal” that would resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Clearly, he has never been serious about this.
Obviously, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital marks an unprecedented shift in U.S. policy, but it is important to note that from presidents Truman to Trump, the U.S. has never actually been an “honest broker” of peace between Palestinians and Israelis. On the contrary, the U.S. has provided exceptional diplomatic, economic, and military support to Israel ever since its creation in 1948.
For example, even though the official American position on Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank is that they are illegal, the U.S. has never taken any meaningful steps to hold Israel accountable for its continued and increasing settlement of Palestinian land. The most it has done was under the final month of President Obama’s tenure, when it abstained from a UN vote calling on Israel to cease settlement activity. But only months before, the Obama administration had approved a record military aid package to Israel worth $38 billion, including the sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets (the first foreign country to receive them).
Clearly, American presidents and officials have failed miserably as impartial mediators in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the past 70 years. The latest reports of Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Palestinians and the Palestinian leadership must recognize this fact, and they must abandon all attempts to pursue justice through American channels, which have been entirely fruitless. Otherwise, they will be wasting their time and efforts. Surely there will be a major backlash to this decision that will probably lead to violence at some point, but the Israeli and U.S. governments will have no one to blame but themselves. You reap what you sow.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.