Analysis

Trump Hasn’t Killed the Peace Process, He Just Pronounced It Dead

U.S. recognition of Jerusalem has shattered the illusion that if only the core issues could be resolved, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would come to an end

Trump announces that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, at the White House in Washington, December 6, 2017.
KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS

How did Israelis live without a recognized capital city? How will our lives change now we finally have a capital that’s been granted American citizenship? All that’s left now is for the United States and the rest of the world to recognize Israel as the “state of the Jewish people” and we can restart this country.

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You have to admit, no other country has ever been afforded such an opportunity. However, we must also ponder what is more important: recognizing Jerusalem as a capital, or the transferring of the U.S. Embassy to the city? Think about it – until Wednesday, neither Tel Aviv, Jerusalem nor Hadera were recognized as Israel’s capital, so nothing would have changed Jerusalem’s status if the embassy had been moved there first.

What is the significance of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital? In his speech on Wednesday, President Donald Trump himself explained that the choice of a capital is the sovereign right of an independent state, so maybe it’s the government of Israel that doesn’t recognize its authority to determine its capital city?

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Palestinian protesters stepping on American and Israeli flags following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City, December 7, 2017.
Mohammed Abed/AFP

Trump did not give Israeli citizens the legitimacy to choose Jerusalem as the rock of their existence. They don’t need it. All he did was give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a superfluous Christmas gift. Recognition of a city that has no agreed-upon borders – a city that has not been and will not be taken off the negotiation table, and whose future is subject to agreement by both sides – is tantamount to recognizing a lump of clay as the Israeli capital.

We shouldn’t be overly impressed by warnings and threats emanating from Arab states, the Palestinians and Europe. The peace process never was and never will be dependent upon the status of Jerusalem.

If the time comes when an Israeli government agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians, to withdraw from territories, to draw up borders and to divide Jerusalem, Trump’s recognition will not pose an obstacle. As Israel has already proven, it’s precisely in Jerusalem that it is most willing to concede territory filled with Arabs, building them a separate pale of settlement.

We shouldn’t panic at the thought that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will rush to demand Israeli citizenship. The Israeli legislative machine will find ways to deal with that – perhaps conditioning citizenship on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The worry, as usual, is over the outbreak of another intifada. But this is a groundless concern, since the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not the central issue occupying Palestinians and Arab states, despite the protests. Moreover – and this is the main point – Israel knows how to suppress intifadas.

The significance of the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital lies in its formal shattering of the illusion that if only the core issues were resolved – including the Palestinians’ right of return, the demarcation of borders, the status of the settlements and the division of Jerusalem – the conflict would come to an end.

The argument over core issues affords the diplomatic process the semblance of a rational conflict between two business partners. By this thinking, any unilateral change to the status quo of one of these issues should constitute a breakdown of the process. However, the resolution of core issues depends primarily on the person heading the government in Israel and what motivates them.

When there is no way of changing governments and starting real negotiations, there is an escape into arguments over core issues. For decades, both the left and the right have been contending with this illusion, holding imaginary negotiations with themselves and the United States, but never with the Palestinians.

The left’s fear that now there won’t be anything to talk about with the Palestinians and the right’s glee over Trump’s burial of the peace process derive from the very same illusion.

Let’s be honest, Trump didn’t kill the peace process on Wednesday. He stood over the grave of this process, puffing out his chest and bragging that only he dared declare it dead (namely in recognizing Jerusalem), whereas his predecessors only toyed with attempts at resuscitation. Still, at least we now have a capital city and the Palestinians don’t.