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Trump’s Jerusalem Gambit

Trump's Jerusalem Gambit

Decades of Middle East diplomacy thrown away in one sentence

“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”
— Donald J. Trump President of the United States


On December 06, 2017, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, made his most controversial decision in the realm of foreign policy when he, despite warnings at home and abroad, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – the city that houses holy places of all three Abrahamic religions and is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. The decision, which has been widely criticized by US allies from Malaysia to Indonesia to France to Britain, reverses decades of American policy in the Middle East. Politicians, scholars, observers, diplomats and policymakers around the world have been discussing the decision, its causes, process and the possible implications in the near future. Although many consider this decision as the most predictable foreign policy decision for Trump to make, it still raises questions about the motivations and process of US foreign policy making as well as the consequences of such a decision.

Major Causes

Since the declaration of the decisions, the first debate has been in regard to the cause of this decision at such a critical time in one of the most volatile regions of the world. Here is a brief analysis of the reason which led Mr Trump to such a polarizing decision:

1. Domestic Motivations

Although President Trump called the decision in “the best interest” of the United States, the questions that arise here are: how the decision can advance and promote US interests? How such a foreign policy can contribute to US power and influence? Given the urgency of other issues in the region, including the civil war in Syria, the situations in Iraq and Yemen and the tension among the Gulf countries, what makes this decision a priority for US foreign policy?

The most important reason behind this decision is domestic motivations. Speculations have ranged from the willingness to keep a campaign promise to the goal of distinguishing himself from former presidents. For some, this decision will consolidate the base of Trump voters, especially among the more conservative segments of the American population. It will likely help him bolster his image among the Jewish lobby in Washington as well as American evangelical groups, his social base.

Steven Spiegel, director of the Center for Middle East development at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), concurred that pleasing Trump’s base of Christian and Jewish conservative supporters was a key element in the decision. During the presidential campaign, Trump had repeatedly promised to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

2. Messing Things Up

With this announcement, the attention on the international front has overshadowed ongoing turmoil for the Trump Administration at home. After the guilty plea from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump is finding it hard to convince people that he did not have any covert support from Russia in his elections as the President. “Part of his history is to throw things out there to throw us off other issues that are sensitive. It’s a way of distracting us from the Russia probe,” asserts Rabbi David Shneyer, founder and director of the Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community of Greater Washington.

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