Middle East |Explainer

Fallout from U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel

  1. Hamas calls for new "intifada" against Israel
  2. Netanyahu hails recognition of 'historical and national identity'
  3. Palestinian leader warns of 'dangerous consequences'

Reverberations from President Donald Trump’s “recognition of reality” to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel spread with Islamic group Hamas calling for a new “intifada in the face of the Zionist enemy” and the UN Security Council summoned to meet on the crisis provoked by the historic shift by Washington.

“We should call for and we should work on launching an intifada in the face of the Zionist enemy,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech in Gaza reported by Reuters.

The European Union meanwhile raised the idea of using the crisis to recognize the holy city as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state — the latter in East Jerusalem.

“The European Union has a clear and united position. We believe the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states and with Jerusalem as the capital of both,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a news conference.


Trump rejected pleas from Pope Francis and world leaders in reversing 70 years of American foreign policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying it was the reality on the ground and should not prevent a “deal” between Israel and Palestinians.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in a speech from the White House. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.” (The official statement is here from the White House.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the decision as a “historic landmark.”

An Israeli national flag and an American one are projected on a part of the walls surrounding Jerusalem's Old City December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
An Israeli national flag and an American one are projected on a part of the walls surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Saudi Arabia, which Trump has hailed as a key diplomatic partner in the Middle East, described the recognition as “irresponsible and unwarranted”.

In an official statement from the Saudi royal court (Arabnews.com)— whose members have particular importance in Sunni Islam as the defacto leaders of the sect — said: “The Kingdom expresses its denunciation and deep regret that the (Trump) administration has taken this step, as it represents a great bias against the historic and permanent rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, which have been affirmed by the relevant international resolutions and have been recognized and supported by the international community.”

Pope and others warn of risks

Earlier, the pope joined a chorus of leaders from the Middle East and around the world urging Trump not to go ahead with the recognition, which is deeply opposed by Arabs, Muslims and others. Palestine also claims the city as its capital.

Trump told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on December 5 that the U.S. would make the recognition. It is expected that the U.S. will eventually move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the historic city that is sacred to all three of the Abrahamic faiths.

“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done,” Trump told a White House event with Vice President Mike Pence, a Christian seen by some Muslim leaders a force behind the change.

“This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement,” Trump said, according to a comprehensive USA Today report on the statement.

No timetable was provided as to when the U.S. embassy will be moved, and media reports said it would likely take at least another six months.

Why it matters so much

Here’s why recognition is such an explosive issue:

  • Both Israel and Palestine lay claim on Jerusalem as it has a critical role in Judaism and Islam. Palestine claims East Jerusalem and Israel considers the entire city to be sovereign Israeli territory, and administers the city and maintains its primary government institutions. The international community considers East Jerusalem to be part of the occupied Palestinian territories, though an additional 176 Israeli homes were constructed in the east in October 2017.
  • The U.S. has a key role in Palestinian-Israeli relations. PBS outlines the history of U.S. involvement in mediating between Israel and Palestine, despite never officially recognizing Palestine as a sovereign nation. By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Abbas and Palestinian government see the U.S. signaling an end to prospects of a two-state settlement.

Here’s how leaders around the world are reacting

  • Recognizing Jerusalem as the “eternal capital” of Israel fulfills a campaign promise Trump made during the 2016 presidential election. International leaders criticize the decision as a threat to the stalled ambitions for a two-state solution to the rival claims.

Here’s how leaders in Palestine are reacting

  • Palestinian President Abbas warned of “dangerous consequences” such a decision would have to the peace process, Reuters reported.
  • A British online newspaper, The Independent reported that a Hamas spokesperson announced that Trump had opened “the gates of hell” by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, given the Palestinian claim.

Here’s how leaders in Israel are reacting:

  • On a Facebook Live video, Israel’s Netanyahu said Israel’s “historical and national identity is receiving important expressions every day, but especially today,” according to Israeli news site Haaretz.
  • The Jerusalem Post reported that members of Netanyahu’s Likud party have voiced strong support for the Trump administration’s decision.

Here’s how leaders in the U.S. are reacting:

  • The recognition of Jerusalem is an issue that has had bipartisan support in the United States. On June 5, the Senate voted 90-0 to pass a resolution — seen as largely symbolic because no president has ever acted upon the call — that stated Jerusalem “should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.” Ten abstained from the vote.
    • The resolution upheld the Jerusalem Act of 1995, which passed by a 93-5 margin in the Senate, and by 374-37 in the House of Representatives, that states Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel since 1950.
    • Every U.S. president since 1995, until now, has withheld implementation of the legislation in order to preserve the peace process.
  • U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a Democrat representing New York who has been stridently pro-Israel in his views and decisions, supported Trump’s move according to The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication. He even criticized Trump for not recognizing Jerusalem earlier, according to an email sent to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
  • Republican Senator Ted Cruz also offered strong support for the White House decision. In an official statement, he said, “I encourage countries around the world to now engage in their own moment of historical moral clarity, to follow America’s lead in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
  • Senator Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s rival for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination,  criticized the White House decision in a tweet saying it would undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and perhaps irreparably damage “our ability to broker it.”

What commentators are saying

  • Palestinian commentator Daoud Kuttab said in a column on Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera that the U.S. move was a dramatic and dangerous switch in policy that reflected the influence of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, and Vice President Pence, whom he described as a “Christian Zionist”.
  • Jake Novak, a columnist for CNBC, cut across the prevailing view of the riskiness of recognizing Jerusalem and wrote that the prospect of increased violence from Palestinians in the wake of the U.S. decision is overblown and that it could in fact make peace more likely.
  • Shmuel Rosner, political editor of The Jewish Journal, wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the decision recognized the reality on the ground and several thousand years of history.
  • At the liberal Israeli newspaper site Haaretz, columnist Bradley Burston wrote that the recognition was a dangerous political trap for Netanyahu.

More reading on Jerusalem

  • A 2006 essay “The Israel Lobby” in The London Review of Books by U.S. foreign policy academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt caused outrage among sections of the pro-Israel lobby with its argument that Washington’s policies in the Middle East had been excessively influenced by the political power of Israel in the United States.
  • Anglo-American historian and noted adviser to neoconservatives, Bernard Lewis, published What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response in 2002. It was abridged in The Atlantic here.
  • Palestinian intellectual Edward Said wrote his influential Orientalism  in 1978, arguing that colonial powers dictated the way the Middle East is portrayed in a patronising and romantic way.
  • Pakistan-born British author Ziauddin Sardar explores the importance of Jerusalem and one of the three holiest sites in Islam in his 2014 book Mecca: The Sacred City.
  • British historian and scion of a legendary Jewish family, Simon Sebag Montefiore, published a sumptuous “biography” of the city: Jerusalem.

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Chris Murray

"Agreed. Call 'em out! Let's call this..."
Peter Bale

Peter Bale

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Peter Bale

Peter Bale

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Michael Gassner

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Charles Michio Turner is an American journalist who reports on labor, politics and development. In 2016, he reported from Myanmar on the several growing social movements in the country. His goal is to find new ways to include audiences in the new reporting process. Let him know if there's an issue or question that you see as being underreported or poorly reported. Twitter: @charlesmichio

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  1. You brought up a point, which is difficult to grasp being not from the US regarding the Jerusalem Act of 1995:


    This calls for some analysis, if an Act is being postponed for 22 years, while having had such support.

    The Wiki entry is also not fully clarifying for me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_Embassy_Act

    1. Agreed. Based on what I have absorbed on this so far it was very easy to support the act when there was no danger that the President would go against State Dept, UN and most of his allies and agree to it. So, politicians were able to meet the demands of the Israel lobby and their constituencies without having any real prospect of facing up to the consequences. This additional piece — by a community member but with some additional editing and background from me — might help but it is fascinating how one can vote for something you never expect to happen and then condemn it when someone calls your bluff, effectively.
      Here’s the other piece: https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2017/12/07/united_states/key-democratic-figures-shift-positions-on-jerusalem-when-decision-is-real/26662/

  2. https://www.vox.com/2017/12/6/16742640/trump-jerusalem-israel-speech-full-text

    Full text of Trump’s speech – should probably be linked in the article if it isn’t already (I didn’t see it but I may be mistaken). Not wedded to this particular link as a source, there may be an official .gov one somewhere which is preferable.

    1. Thanks to Eric Fershtman for adding the link near the beginning.

    1. The US Senate passed a resolution six months ago 90-0 that reaffirms the Jerusalem Embassy Act and says that “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected”. ( https://www.timesofisrael.com/senate-unanimously-passes-bill-marking-50-years-since-jerusalem-reunification/ )

      Senators Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein spoke out against the plan to recognize Jerusalem and move the embassy. ( http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/donald-trump-will-move-us-embassy-israel-jerusalem-officials-confirm-1650307 , http://freepresskashmir.com/2017/12/06/trump-all-set-to-recognize-jerusalem-as-israels-capital/ )

      There should probably be some reactions from American politicians in the article.

      1. I was aware of the 1995 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_Embassy_Act but I didn’t realize it was renewed 6 months ago.

        The reason I think this is relevant: in the current highly emotive environment of Trump versus Congress (and everyone else) this is likely to be incorrectly portrayed as a unilateral move of Trump himself, against everyone, as opposed to being a unilateral move of the United States, including the backing of a 90-0 vote in Congress.

        1. I’m also curious to know, based on your comment, whether Sanders and Feinstein abstained from that resolution. If they did, then fine. People disagree, it’s a hard issue.

          But if they voted for a 90-0 resolution in favor of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, and then spoke out against it more recently, that’s newsworthy.

          How can we check that?

          1. According to the Senate website’s vote tracker, both Sanders and Feinstein voted in favor of S. RES. 176, which “reaffirms the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (Public Law 104–45) as United States law, and calls upon the President and all United States officials to abide by its provisions.”

            The abstaining senators were: Bennet (D-CO),Booker (D-NJ), Duckworth (D-IL), Flake (R-AZ), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Murkowski (R-AK), Sullivan (R-AK), Tillis (R-NC), and Toomey (R-PA).


            1. Hi Yair,

              Thank you for the insight on Sanders. This contradiction is something that hasn’t been covered yet. I created another subsection committed to the reaction of U.S. politicians. The June resolution is also mentioned.

              And as Jimmy said, you should start an analysis piece if you have more insights into the U.S. Congress-Israel relationship.

            2. This sounds worthy of a (neutral, non-inflammatory!) story. Will you start one? What’s newsworthy here is that both have spoken against it, while both also voted for it last year.

              1. Agreed. Call ’em out! Let’s call this particular amoral action duplici Suffragium.

              2. It was an entirely symbolic vote and given their constituencies it’s not surprising the way they voted in what was a gesture — not meaningful. It was a vote on apple pie.

              3. Sure. Started a draft at https://www.wikitribune.com/?post_type=stories&p=26662 .

                (By the way, if one of the actual journalists could actually ask the senators why their positions changed in the meanwhile, I would think that would be a critical part of the story.)

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