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After Trump Recognized Jerusalem, Palestinian Leaders See a Silver Lining

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Israeli forces detain Palestinian Fevzi El-Junidi, 14-year-old, following clashes after protests against a decision recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Hebron, 07 December 2017.
Israeli forces detain Palestinian Fevzi El-Junidi, 14-year-old, following clashes after protests against a decision recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Hebron, 07 December 2017. Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun / Anadolu Agenc

When the sense of euphoria and victory wane in Israel, it will become clear that, from Israel’s standpoint, not a lot has changed due to President Donald Trump’s “historic” declaration on Wednesday that Jerusalem is the country’s capital.

It is an important decision for Israel, but when all is said and done, it comes from Israel’s closest friend and the administration considered the friendliest to Israel, but it is doubtful that Trump has a long-term vision or a well-ordered plan to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

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For Israel, Trump’s statement will serve as backing for more construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond Israel’s 1967 borders and continued geographic and demographic changes in the city. But it is clear to everyone that Israel has always conducted itself as if it was not subject to pressure regarding Jerusalem; it has done whatever it wished to do. So practically, the American declaration will not substantially affect Israel’s decision-making.

From the standpoint of the Palestinians, it is becoming clear over the last few days that the consequences of Trump’s declaration have not been so bad. The countries of the world are not flocking to follow in Trump’s footsteps. On the contrary, most have rushed to condemn the declaration and state that their own stance has not changed. They are actually adopting the Palestinian narrative that West Jerusalem is Israel’s and East Jerusalem is the Palestinians’. Even countries such as Britain and Germany have quickly disassociated themselves from the American position.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman on December 7. Credit: Khalil Mazraawi/ Reuters

>> Jerusalem for dummies: Why the world doesn’t recognize it as Israel’s capital ■  Jerusalem for Dummies, Part 2: What the Palestinians Want

Rallies in support of the Palestinians have been held in many cities across Europe, and the issue has made headlines in the leading media outlets around the world. In the Arab world, there have also been marches and demonstrations and the message has been clear. Even if their regimes remained silent or reacted in a tepid fashion to the declaration from the White House, Arab public opinion has been overwhelmingly supportive of the Palestinian people and its demands.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership can take advantage of this atmosphere to reiterate to the world that despite all of the other events in the Middle East, the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the Arab and international consensus. This departure point can, with Arab backing, help Abbas deflect any American pressure to agree to a plan that violates Palestinian national understandings.

Those following Palestinian and Arab social media will understand the depths of the abhorrence and anger over the policies of the Gulf states and particularly Saudi Arabia as well as the criticism leveled at Egypt in this context. After Trump’s slap in the face and the reaction that followed his announcement, Riyadh and Cairo cannot permit themselves to accept the American scenario for the whole peace process and to apply pressure on the Palestinian leadership.

Members of Abbas’ staff see the potential inherent in current public sentiment among Palestinians, the Arab world and beyond and will take advantage of it to the fullest to present the international community with basic options. One is that the time has come to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and to act to implement it and to isolate the United States. The other would be to adopt Trump’s declaration but begin implementation of a one-state solution on the ground in both Israel and the territories. Jerusalem could serve as a pilot project and lead, for example, to the strategic step of having a Palestinian run as mayor of united Jerusalem.