The inexperienced Trump administration is committing a major mistake based on three wrong assumptions. The consequences of this tinkering with a sensitive issue will be bad for Israelis, Palestinians and Americans – and in the end, it will not work.
The first assumption is based on the current honeymoon between Washington and Saudi Arabia. President Trump seems to think that because Riyadh has been forthcoming on issues like Iran, it will be as forthcoming in making concessions when it comes to Jerusalem.
This wrongly assumes that Jerusalem is simply a Palestinian issue. It is a much bigger issue.
As the heart of the Palestinian struggle, Jerusalem symbolizes the Arab cause more than any other city. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the most popular Arab slogan was Al Quds Arabia (“Jerusalem is Arab”). The Arab League met this week to reconfirm the attachment of all Arabs, and not just Palestinians, to the holy city.
Jerusalem is also an Islamic issue. The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, which includes the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is a Unesco world heritage site and the third holiest mosque in all of Islam. This means that Jerusalem is important to 1.5 billion Muslims as well.
The second assumption, related by Trump officials to the New York Times, is that by pushing an Israeli formula on Jerusalem early on, the US will have easier time resolving the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.
But a look back at last summer’s forceful and successful protests against the imposition of metal detectors outside Al Aqsa is enough to show that such a tactic will not work.
It is the third assumption that is the most sinister: that if the Palestinians declare they are defeated, then a deal favouring Israel will be easier to implement. But Fatah – the main Palestinian faction – made clear they have the will to reject any deal that infringes on the status of Jerusalem.
History tells us that deals do not survive if they are not fair and relatively just. The idea of making Jerusalem the capital of Israel without agreeing to the two state solution with East Jerusalem as its capital is a formula that will not survive.