If there is an upside to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it is not easily apparent. The blowback has started: all major Arab countries have raised the flag and the US is scrambling to protect its citizens from harm. That may just be the beginning: the second Intifada was triggered by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Mount Temple, an area sacred to both Jews and Muslims. If a mere visit was a provocation, the US decision will register higher up on the Richter scale of political upheavals. East Jerusalem, penciled in by the Palestinians as their future capital, is not just a contested parcel of land; it also has key religious sites of reverence to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
To be fair, Trump was fulfilling a campaign promise. Trump’s decision is also rule-based: in 1995, US Congress had passed an Act requiring the shifting of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. A repeat occurred a few months ago. But ever since Israel snatched East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, successive US Presidents have hung back from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in order to maintain the fiction of US neutrality. It also undoes the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords that agreed to discuss Jerusalem in the later stages of peace talks. The Trump move has the potential to set the Middle East in flames, stoke Muslim angst against the West and gives a second wind to the down-and-out Al-Qaida and ISIS.
The US also gets knocked out as an impartial mediator in the Israel-Palestine dispute and comes off looking second best to Iran, its biggest bugbear in the region. By this move, Trump has added to global tensions; ties with North Korea are strained; many Middle-East countries are in the throes of civil wars and Afghanistan is not a done deal yet. As is the case with Trump’s move to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, there is a small window: it will take years to construct an embassy. But to reverse both these moves, the US Presidency has to be in more astute hands.