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Trump’s Non-Strategic Move in Jerusalem

This article was published by L’Homme Nouveau on December 23, under the title “Jérusalem : L’absence de stratégie américaine.” The English version appears below.

Status quo exists because most parties involved prefer stability over chaos. This concerns even status quo founded on a rotten deal, for example, such as the one which issued from the Yalta Conference of 1945 and remained in force throughout the Cold War. From the point of view of a zero sum game, and in the Middle East that is the only one in a long run, Jerusalem is another example of a rotten deal. Neither the Israelis can secure the recognition of it as their capital officially by the world community, nor can Islam dominate it.

By ordering the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump has undermined the status quo. He poured gasoline onto the raging fire of the Middle East. He has also opened up another front for the United States in the region and worldwide. He has alienated most of our European allies, and upset our detractors, including Russia and China. Finally, he has stoked the paranoia of the caliphatist terrorists.

This does not appear to be a brilliant strategic move, a dazzling diplomatic maneuver to complement the sophisticated handiwork of Jarred Kushner, the presidential senior advisor and son-in-law who aims, no less, at achieving regional peace. If anything, it will exacerbate the Middle Eastern crisis. In particular, it will complicate an already complex situation in Israel and the occupied territories, feeding both Arab and Jewish extremism.

Trump likes to stress that he keeps his word, unlike other politicians. During the campaign, he promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and he has delivered accordingly. It is going to take a few years, but a symbolic commitment has been made. Whether or not it will ultimately come to pass is another story. Trump seems to be earnest. But he also seems serious about building a wall along our southern frontier to stem illegal immigration. A few segments of the structure have been erected. And then what? Where is the money? The president seems to have the political will, but the congressional support is often more declarative than practical.

Granted, in terms of logistics, the moving of the embassy will be cheaper than building the wall. This will be the case at least financially. Politically, the United States will have to pay a much higher price for this controversial decision.

First, the status quo in Jerusalem, as flawed as it was, served internal and external power relationships by providing for stability under the aegis of Israel. Three religions claim the Holy City as their own. Whichever faith has the upper hand historically, it tends to subordinate others to inferior roles. Historically, Judaism was the first to lay a claim to the Holy City, followed by Christianity and Islam.  The Jews dominated Jerusalem for much of its history, of course, but they usually had to yield to pagan, Hellenistic and Roman, arrangements. From the 4th century, Christianity prevailed, but three hundred years later or so, Islam became dominant. With a brief respite in the 11th century when Christianity made a brief comeback, the Muslim religion dominated Jerusalem for 1,300 years.

By the 20th century, however, the Great Powers and Russia forced the Ottoman Porte to grant concessions to the Christians; the lot of the Jews improved as well. From 1917 until 1947, the British Empire ruled over Jerusalem. The British rule was interrupted by cyclical Jewish and Arab disturbances and uprisings. Then Israel won its statehood and, in subsequent wars, extended its realm, in particular during the Six Day War when it captured Jerusalem in 1967. This caused a joyous rupture in Israel itself and the Jewish diaspora.

Most Jews consider Jerusalem their capital. Most are unperturbed about the Muslim and Christian allegations of unfairness in Israel’s handling of Jerusalem. The main bones of contention are the access to the holy places, the insufficient freedom of Arab mobility, and the Jewish expansion into Arab living quarters both by legal and illegal means. In all fairness, the Israeli authorities are less stringent than most previous hegemons of Jerusalem, save perhaps the British. The Israelis also seem to adjudicate and thwart conflict among Christians and between Christians and Muslims in a more equitable manner than powers-that-be before them.

The status quo allows for the de facto Jewish supremacy over others without rubbing it de jure into everyone else’s face. Trump’s move, however, strengthens the hand not just of the Jewish romantics, who wish Jerusalem to be universally recognized as the Jewish capital, but also of the Jewish integrists who rejoice over the perspective of realizing their dream of Jerusalem as their exclusive domain. Their ultimate goal is to get rid of the Arabs and others. The religious among the integrists, the ultra-Orthodox in particular, would additionally exclude most other Jews, whom they do not consider Jewish at all.

The perspective of altering the status quo of Jerusalem because of Trump has raised heckles among America’s allies. Even normally reliable Poland issued an official statement that it considers Tel Aviv to be the capital. So America stands alone in Jerusalem. And it is surrounded there by the same enemies who covet the destruction of Israel. Nothing new. However, now Trump’s unilateral move strengthened our enemies by what they view as yet another insult to the Muslim pride.

The Jerusalem affair will be added further to a laundry list of the pet peeves of the mainstream Arab Muslim players. The murderous caliphatist fanatics will internalize Trump’s Jerusalem move as yet another living proof of the deviousness of “The Great Satan Who Is the Lackey of Israel.” Of course, this will be business as usual for them, but even more so.  They will murder more and sacrifice themselves more gladly. The embassy row may even result in a terrorist strike on the American soil. Our allies will be targeted for sure. There will be serious blood-letting, and not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and elsewhere, perhaps even before Christmas. The Israelis should brace themselves for more of the same, too. They are sadly used to it; we are not.

Terrorism would have gone on certainly without the embassy move. But is it necessary to make bad things worse without any strategic plan in sight? What is the relocation supposed to accomplish for the United States? Trump certainly didn’t do it to court the Jewish vote. Most American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton. Most favor Democrats. Most probably share a warm sentiment toward Jerusalem and, thus, approve of the embassy relocation perhaps. But that will not cause them to vote Republican or to support Trump in the long run.

Thus, from a pragmatic standpoint, neither domestic nor foreign affairs warrant this latest move by the U.S. President. Perhaps it has to do with his latent romanticism. But that must be yet another story.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC, 10 December 2017