President Trump announced on Wednesday, December 6 that the internationally disputed city of Jerusalem is the official capital of Israel. In his speech, Trump referenced the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 as the domestic legal basis for his announcement. The Act explains that Jerusalem has been recognized by the U.S. Congress and House of Representatives in 1995 as Israel’s capital. With this recognition, he explains, the U.S. Embassy should be moved there.
While Trump’s announcement is historic due to its authoritative status, it is hardly an anomaly among previous U.S. foreign policy surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and others, all recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital during their tenures. Since Jerusalem is internationally recognized as a disputed territory, however, all of these policies are in breach of international laws and treaties. This significant breach drastically decreases the United States’ political legitimacy among other states around the world. Shortly after Trump’s announcement, Germany issued a statement explaining that Trump sees the world “as a fighting arena” and the government accordingly declared its dissociation from future U.S. foreign policy. Similarly, the international community at the United Nations denounced Trump’s declaration and explained that it “threatens the peace process in the Middle East.” Trump’s announcement, alongside his other foreign policy shifts on climate change and others, have all upset the value and the power of the United States’ input and its previously-guaranteed support.
Regarding this issue specifically, the dwindling of international support for Trump’s position is significantly connected to the lack of agency Palestinians have over this decision. Trump, who represents a supposedly neutral third party, immersed his government in a detrimental decision on behalf of the Palestinians and Israelis involved and caused the latter’s actions to be reactionary rather than foundational. Both Palestinians and Israelis view Jerusalem as one of the most significant issues in their peace negotiations. In declaring Jerusalem as the capital of one state and not the other, Trump essentially stole the “self” in self-determination for Palestinians around the world – an internationally recognized human right for every people. Indeed, in making this declaration, the U.S. did not allow Palestinians to envision a Jerusalem of which they are a part.
From a practical perspective, the U.S. declaration surrounding the status of Jerusalem constitutes an adoption of the already-existing apartheid practices in the city. The announcement reaffirms Jerusalem’s “unity” under Israeli jurisdiction while different laws for Jews and non-Jews are implemented in the city. His announcement does not change this reality but adopts a reality that is unlawful and unjust, one which might explain previous U.S. Presidents’ hesitation in making such a claim. Specifically, non-Jewish Jerusalemites do not have Israeli citizenship and face a constant governmental threat of the revocation of their permanent residencies. Accordingly, they are not allowed to vote in national elections or run for the position of mayor in their own city. And, if they choose to marry another Palestinian from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, they are not permitted to extend their permanent residency status to their children, thus limiting their freedom to forming a family and their children’s right to citizenship. These practices, among many others, have been categorized as elements of an apartheid regime by the international community.
In conclusion, President Trump’s declaration regarding Jerusalem is dangerous for three main reasons. First, it threatens America’s political standing among the international community as Trump makes arbitrary decisions that breach international laws and commitments. It also denies the Palestinian right to self-determination. Finally, the recent U.S. declaration indirectly associates the U.S. government with unlawful and oppressive practices committed in Jerusalem — and directly so by building the U.S. Embassy on private land belonging to displaced Palestinian refugees. Ultimately, using his authoritative powers, Trump hinders the progress of possible just solutions for both Palestinians and Israelis and damages America’s international reputation (in the process).