My friends tell me that they have never seen someone so bad at anything as I am at the game of darts. It’s true that small children and the legally blind can out score me, but that’s not to say that I have not accidentally hit a bullseye upon occasion. The same is true with President Trump’s statement on December 6, 2017 moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Do not be fooled, this is the work of a flailing incompetent and any good that comes from it will be by sheer dumb luck.
There is no evidence that the President came to this policy decision after careful deliberation. Rather, we have multiple stories that attest to the President’s short attention span, contempt for reading, and departure from presidential daily briefing norms. His own words, “It’s a complex subject, always been considered the toughest deal of all: peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the toughest of all,” are more about his own boasting than an understanding of the history of the region.
To suggest that Trump’s announcement to relocate the American embassy is anything more than an attempt to divert attention away from scandal or a pandering to a needed electoral constituency would be to overestimate the capabilities of this administration. Trump has claimed that his out of the box thinking will move the peace process forward. In his statement Trump returned to this tired trope by saying, “It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.” The implicit suggestion here is that policy x has never been tried before, so it could lead us to our desired result y. By that same logic, we could also argue that we have never tried to build a country club for the Palestinians, so Mar-a-Lago Gaza could be the chess move that brings about lasting peace.
Equally spurious is the fear or warning that the President’s announcement will set the peace process irreparably back. In 2000, the second Intifada started almost immediately after Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. It has been a month since Trump’s announcement and there has been no such response.
It is also foolish to conclude that somehow the final status of Jerusalem is no longer on the bargaining table of Israeli and Palestinian diplomats. In 2000, Israel offered generous settlements regarding the control of East Jerusalem only to be rebuked by the Yasser Arafat. The location of the US embassy does not preclude a more reasonable Palestinian Authority from accepting any peace terms from a future Israeli government. If Trump shows us nothing else, he is demonstrating that it is possible to relocate an embassy.
Jerusalem — a holy city to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike — has been the capital of Israel since Israel’s founding in 1948. No other democracy in the world is in disagreement with other nations as to the location of its own capital. Furthermore, between 1948 and 1967 the Jordanian government, which controlled East Jerusalem, prohibited Jews from worshiping at their holiest site, the Western Wall. No such ban on worship has affected Muslims since Israel gained control of East Jerusalem at the end of the Six Day War in 1967. Relocating the embassy is simply recognizing the reality on the ground. It is also an acknowledgement that Israel has been a responsible steward to a city holy to three major religions.
Trump’s announcement may be the right move because it reflects the reality that Israel’s liberal democratic government has been headquartered in Jerusalem for seventy years. Did Trump force any concessions from the Nitanyahu govenrment? Are Palestinians as a result of this move more likely to agree to peace terms? These questions would at least have some clear answers if the President was playing chess. But, the absence of a plan or the articulation of strategy coupled with everything we know about this President and his unsuitability for his office make me worry that this new policy is a wasted move and at best a lucky bullseye.