U.S. President Donald Trump has given a valuable political gift to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s strugging amid the corruption investigations against him and is trying to maintain the stability of his governing coalition, which is being led by the Habayit Hayehudi party headed by Naftali Bennett.
In his White House address Wednesday, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a declaration that all his predecessors had avoided since the state was established in 1948. In the same breath, he diluted the American commitment to the two-state solution, which he conditioned on the agreement of the parties. More importantly, Trump promised that the United States wouldn’t present a position on the contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians, above all the borders of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
Trump awarded Netanyahu an unprecedented diplomatic achievement, even as he postponed fulfillment of his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At the same time, he calmed Netanyahu’s fears about presenting an American diktat for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that might have unraveled the prime minister’s coalition, which rejects the two-state solution or any gesture toward the Palestinians. It’s no wonder that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded with great disappointment to Trump’s remarks and called for an international front against the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The speech was accompanied by fears of an outbreak of violence, and hopefully the two sides will prevent this. Trump tried to calm the waters by calling for the preservation of the status quo at the holy places, and by mentioning Al-Aqsa as a Muslim shrine.
But the problem isn’t just ensuring calm in the short term, but finding a long-term solution to the conflict. Trump’s nice words about his commitment to peace won’t solve the plight of 320,000 Palestinians who live in Jerusalem without civil rights. And they won’t silence the right-wing Israelis who seek to rebuild the Temple even at the price of eternal war with the Muslim world.
Above all, Trump’s “Jerusalem speech” constitutes another step in the American withdrawal from the Middle East. It’s true that his predecessors also didn’t impose a settlement, but at least since the 2000 Camp David summit they mediated between the parties, guided by Bill Clinton’s parameters. Trump has freed himself from a commitment to the past and has left the Israelis and Palestinians fully responsible for shaping and achieving a settlement.
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