Experts discuss the fallout of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and what this policy shift means for Israelis and Palestinians
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Washington, DC – December 12, 2017 – Arab Center Washington DC (ACW), a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on US policy and developments in the Arab region, held an event at the National Press Club titled “Jerusalem: The Fatal Blow to Trump’s ‘Ultimate Deal’?” Speakers were Yousef Munayyer of ACW and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Zaha Hassan of New America, and Perry Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They discussed President Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
Yousef Munayyer said that one hundred years after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the Trump declaration marks the end of the Oslo Accords era. Statements by Trump and the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, make for a confused US policy, he said, and that, “The American position seems to be that Jerusalem is not for negotiation, but it is, and at the same time the Americans have already awarded it to Israel.” What Israel understands from the United States, he said, is that “if you create realities on the ground, America will have to recognize them,” and that certainly discourages them from conceding anything in a peace process. For their part, Palestinians will understand that the US president has validated an Israeli narrative, with US policy on Jerusalem, Israeli settlement building, and the two-state solution having “gone out the window.”
Zaha Hassan, who also had served as legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team, examined the timing of this policy shift, pointing to the mid-November visit by Jared Kushner to Saudi Arabia to communicate US parameters for a peace deal—which, she said, were reported as basically Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s terms. Soon after Abbas rejected them, Trump failed to sign the waiver to keep the PLO office in Washington open. Further, both Netanyahu and Trump were facing investigations, the former for corruption and the latter for Russian election meddling, so they needed to rally their bases. Hassan commented, “What great timing for Benjamin Netanyahu to be able to rally people around him in the midst of his corruption investigation,” and added, “What great timing for Trump amid his own problems with investigations by Mueller.” The Palestinians were also expected to be upset and react strongly to Trump’s announcement, thus taking the blame for supposedly subverting any new peace initiative.
Perry Cammack who also was a member of former Secretary of State John Kerry’s planning staff, said that “Jerusalem has always been an important bargaining chip for the US government” but was shocked that the American president “would give up this ‘chit’ without getting anything in response.” Considering it a symbolic event, he said that “this is something like a nail in a coffin of a peace process that has been buried, rather than the coffin itself.” He predicted that the decision would increase the diplomatic isolation of the United States among NATO allies and international organizations. However, he noted that Europe does not have much leverage and cannot replace the United States as mediator, and that many Arab states are “frankly more worried about Iran than Palestine.” Cammack said that with demographic parity in 2017 in Israel and Palestine—6.4 million Palestinians and 6.4 million Israelis—coupled with a higher Palestinian birth rate, Israel would never agree to a one-state outcome with a Jewish minority.
A complete videorecording of the event is available.