Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's Capital: What to Watch For

President Trump has reportedly informed regional leaders that he’ll recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this week. Here are three details to pay attention to:


1. Which Jerusalem? From an analysis in the Times of Israel:

In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump thus has three options, said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US politics at Bar-Ilan University.

“He can either say ‘Jerusalem,’ ‘West Jerusalem’ or ‘United Jerusalem.’ There is debate about the right wording even within the administration,” he said.

Most likely, Trump will merely say “Jerusalem,” thus allowing all sides to interpret his statement as they wish, Gilboa speculated. Israel will then be able to cite the law and the president’s previous commitments in arguing he meant the entire city. The Palestinians, meanwhile, will be able to cling to the hope that he was only referring to West Jerusalem.

The Israeli parliament, prime minister’s residence, and supreme court are all west of the “Green Line” (the 1949 armistice line that served as the de facto border prior to 1967).

Hamas and other Palestinian maximalists may consider the entire city (and indeed the entire country) occupied territory, but among good-faith actors only the Old City and the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are legitimately disputed (and it’s hard to see how the Old City can be divided as a practical final-status solution).


Explicitly recognizing “West Jerusalem,” as the Russian foreign ministry did earlier this year, would be unwelcome in some quarters on the Israeli right, while the “United Jerusalem” formulation would seem to foreclose options for the sort of peace deal that Trump sometimes seems interested in. Gilboa is likely correct that Trump will leave things ambiguous.

2. What about the embassy? In 1995 Congress passed a law that would ostensibly move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and since then US presidents have signed a waiver every six months, delaying the move for national security purposes. Trump is expected to sign that waiver again this week (Bloomberg treated this as a scoop this afternoon, even though it had appeared in earlier reports); the timeline on moving the embassy (perhaps by simply re-designating the consulate an embasssy) is still unclear. It may or may not be clearer after tomorrow.

3. What about the backlash? Amos Yadlin, who likely would have been minister of defense in a center-left government if Prime Minister Netanyahu had not been re-elected in 2015, had this to say on Twitter regarding backlash from the Muslim world after Trump’s announcement:


There may be protests and even violence in response to Trump’s announcement, but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be less than the most dire warnings suggest.


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