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Trump ticks the box on another campaign promise at the expense of inflaming the Muslim world

Alex Lockie
  • President Donald Trump's announcement of plans to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has inflamed regional leaders and drawn threats of violence against the US and Israel, but in practical terms it changes little.
  • Both US political parties have long promised to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and Palestinian-aligned regional forces have long threatened violence against the US and Israel.
  • Trump's announcement allows him to tick the box on another campaign promise with no input from Congress and only at the cost of antagonizing the Muslim world, which he seems OK with.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday stirred the pot across the Muslim world by announcing that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Some regional leaders didn't even wait for the announcement to become official before predicting a violent response.

"He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel," Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian general delegate to the UK, told the BBC on Wednesday.

Turkey's deputy prime minister said the move "will be a major catastrophe." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the move a "red line" for Muslims.

The militant Palestinian Sunni Muslim group Hamas used the occasion to call for another intifada, or uprising, against Israel.

An Iranian-backed militia operating in Iraq said the move would give some "legitimate reason to target American forces." In response, US embassies across the Middle East braced for violence.

Trump's announcement 'will change nothing on the ground'

Israel Jerusalem Old City Western Wall Dome of the Rock

Despite the fury it provoked, "the Trump announcement will change nothing on the ground itself," Michael Koplow, the policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, an advocacy group supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wrote at the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

Israel considers Jerusalem its capital. The policy platforms of successive Democratic candidates have considered Jerusalem to be Israel's capital, and the US Congress passed legislation recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital back in 1995 (the legislation allowed the president to postpone the official recognition, something all subsequent presidents had done until this week).

Yet Hamas frequently calls for intifadas. Iranian-backed forces have several times attacked or imperiled US forces operating in the Middle East. Turkey and Israel last year normalized relations after six years of difficult silence.

Absent from Trump's speech was a timetable for moving the US Embassy.

"As a practical matter, no embassy is constructed today anywhere in the world in shorter than three or four years - no embassy," a Trump administration official told the Washington Examiner.

The US will probably first study sites and evaluate security concerns before then beginning a lengthy construction process that is likely to stretch past Trump's current term in office.

As far as endangering the already dubious Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Trump on Wednesday sought to convey that the US took no position on how Jerusalem should ultimately be divided in a two-state solution.

What actually happens now

Besides inflaming an already inflamed Middle East, Trump's announcement makes a few material changes.

As Koplow points out, it will irk the US's Sunni Arab allies who support the Palestinians and don't want to be seen as siding with the US and Israel.

Domestically, the move allows Trump to tick the box on another campaign promise unilaterally.

"Some say [past presidents] lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time," Trump said during the announcement.

Israel is pleased by the decision. The Palestinian Authority protests it. Fundamentalist groups have called for violence against Israel and the US. Trump's secretaries of state and of defence cautioned against the move out of security concerns, but Trump is the executive.

Politically at home, Trump has executed on a promise and again demonstrated that for his administration, antagonizing the Muslim world is an acceptable price to pay.