Nothing about Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to begin planning for moving the United States embassy there is at all surprising. The action delights Israel’s right-wing government and, more significantly for Trump, it is a fabulous gift for the man who gave more money to his 2016 campaign than anyone else, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson who makes an Israeli-controlled Jerusalem his chief political demand.
Of course, the Trump announcement is not really about Jerusalem. That city is securely in Israeli hands with no one in any way challenging its role as Israel’s capital, whether formally recognized by the United States or not. No, the reason Adelson and Prime Minister Netanyahu himself are so focused on Jerusalem is because they know that unless Jerusalem’s status is on the negotiating table, there can be no real negotiations. And that means Israel can maintain its control over the entire West Bank, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and even its deadly blockade of Gaza. No negotiations means Israel keeps everything. That is the significance of Trump’s statement.
True, Trump mentioned his support for the “two-state solution” and has dispatched Jared Kushner to achieve some kind of Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But, with Jerusalem now off the table (awarded to Israel by Trump in advance of negotiations) no negotiations can get off the ground. That is because Jerusalem is as holy to Muslims as to Jews and no Palestinian would ever accept an agreement that does not grant them at least a part of it. That is why no previous president ever prejudged the final status of Jerusalem in advance; from Nixon through Obama, they all agreed to keep quiet about Jerusalem until the final stage of negotiations and then devise a compromise under which the city would be shared.
No more. That is why more bloody violence is far more likely than more negotiations and the only people happy are Israeli rightists, their American supporters, and ISIS-type extremists whose goal is an Israel enveloped in flames.
No negotiations means Israel keeps everything. That is the significance of Trump’s statement.
So why did Trump do it? There is no indication that he cares about Israel or Palestine any more than he cares about any issue that does not directly affect him and his holdings. But he does care about his donors, as evidenced in that abomination of a tax bill. He knows he will never have the support of most Jews. They overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and his flirtation with the anti-semites of the alt-right since his election has made even even less popular with them. Additionally, not only are the overwhelming majority of Jews progressive Democrats, they are also dovish on Israel. Appeasing the Israeli right and the settlers can only turn them off even more.
But the Jerusalem move does please right-wing Christians who support the occupation with enthusiasm, revere Jerusalem and don’t like Muslims. True, they tend not to be big donors but they are voters. The donor side of the equation is represented by Sheldon Adelson and Jews like Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. Klein is not wealthy but plenty of his followers are. And he has made clear that so long as a politician is “pro-Israel,” anti-semitism is irrelevant. This is crazy but it’s a thing among that tiny (but wealthy) group of Jews who like Bannon and company and whose mantra is, “he may hate Jews but he loves Israel.”
What will Trump’s move mean in the end? At best, nothing. At least nothing but the permanent end of a peace process that was going nowhere anyway. But, at worst, people will die in the Middle East, Europe, or even at home. The worst thing about Trump’s action is its reckless disregard for the human misery it could cause including among the Israelis he claims to love.
But even that is probably a plus for him. Politicians like Trump and Netanyahu use every act of terrorism to exploit their agenda, rushing to the television cameras to declare that whatever evil happens only proves that Arabs or Muslims in general are blood thirsty monsters who must not be appeased. They ride the cycle of violence with joy. The Trump decision on Jerusalem guarantees it will keep spinning.