Trump ignored reality that status of Jerusalem was key to peace talks in the Mideast

The arrogance of President Donald J. Trump’s statement on U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was exceeded only by the lack of logic in his declaration that because previous presidents didn’t do it, his doing so will advance the cause of peace in the region.

Trump announced Wednesday that “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital” and that the State Department will prepare to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In doing so, he ignored the counsel of dozens of other nations and their leaders – enemies as well as allies in the Middle East, our traditional European allies and Pope Francis.

He broke with the example of every president since Harry Truman – a lineup that includes some of history’s most stalwart supporters of Israel. Jerusalem was not a part of Israel when the Jewish state was created in the United Nations partition of 1947. It became part of the occupied territory that Israel gained through wars in which it defended itself against Arab attempts to destroy it.

History shows that Arab states would have been wise to spend the last 70 years trying to live with their new neighbor rather than trying to destroy it. But Israel has not been blameless, as it has built illegal settlements in occupied territory and laid claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem that, until now, has not been recognized by any other nation.

There are enormous challenges to achieving peace in the Middle East, but none was more difficult than reconciling the competing claims of Israel and the Palestinians to Jerusalem, a city that has a place in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

At least since the Camp David accords, the status of Jerusalem has been subject to negotiation. Trump has now declared the most contentious negotiable issue in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as non negotiable.

Trump bills himself as smarter than everyone else, and he looks for ways to demonstrate his alleged superiority and to brag about it.

Jerusalem Embassy Act

Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 that urges the federal government to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But the president, not Congress, sets foreign policy. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama exercised their executive prerogative to pursue their foreign policies, not that of Congress.

Trump somehow now sees this as weakness, and so he proudly declares that regardless of what other presidents have done, he will deliver on his campaign promise to move the embassy.

Trump has sown the wind and he will leave it to everyone else to reap the whirlwind.

Today has been declared a “day of rage” by the militant group Hamas, virtually assuring violence. A self- proclaimed master negotiator would avoid providing the spark needed to blow up the peace process. But Trump has been a mercurial observer of Middle East tensions.

In December 2015, candidate Trump told the Associated Press: “I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it work. A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal. Whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice some things. They may not be and I understand that and I’m OK with that. But then you’re just not going to have a deal.”

In May, Trump appeared at the White House with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and made an extraordinary statement about bringing peace in the Middle East: “It is something that I think is frankly, maybe, not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”

He named his son-in-law Jared Kushner as his Middle East point man. With his Jerusalem announcement, he has made Kushner superfluous. For the foreseeable future, the United States will not be seen as an honest broker in any peace negotiations.

A cynic might suggest that Trump is OK with that, too. If one side won’t talk with his administration, he can’t be blamed for failing to negotiate a peace that he said would be easy.

Over the next three years, the U.S. will spend hundreds of millions of dollars for additional security and a new embassy – all while hoping that American lives, civilian or military, are not lost to anti-American violence.

That’s a high price to pay so that President Trump can boast that he kept a campaign promise.

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