As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump pledged – to the roaring approval of evangelical Christians and some pro-Israel donors – to buck longstanding policy and quickly move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if he became president.
He also asserted that, as the consummate deal artist, he would succeed where other US presidents had failed – in crafting the “ultimate deal” to end the Middle East conflict through a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.
President Trump made partial good on the embassy pledge with his announcement Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and directing the State Department to begin the process of moving America’s diplomatic headquarters there.
But at the same time, he may have put further off – if not scuttled altogether – prospects for the “ultimate deal” that would finally resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital rather than leaving the city’s status to be decided as part of a final-status settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, Mr. Trump could be plunging a dagger in Palestinian dreams of establishing disputed East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
In a brief White House statement, Trump said it was time for “fresh thinking” and to “reject the same failed approaches” in the long US effort to bring a lasting peace to the Middle East. The president said his actions should not be construed as a position on the “final status” and boundaries of Jerusalem or a departure from the US effort “to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.”
But the actions were viewed in sharply differing ways in the region and around the world.
Trump’s decision was hailed by Israeli leaders, who said there would be national celebrations marking the momentous day. But Palestinian leaders declared “three days of rage” to express their rejection of the move, while Arab and European leaders lined up in opposition to the unilateral US action that runs contrary to international diplomatic efforts to reach a peace accord.
Muslim and Arab leaders, including Jordan’s King Abdullah, warned of a damaging backlash, while Saudi Arabia, which has coordinated closely with the White House on a new regional peace push, warned that the step would “provoke the sentiments of Muslims throughout the world in light of the great importance and the pivotal status of…