Next Year in Jerusalem

President Trump’s decision to move the United States embassy to Jerusalem from its former location in Tel Aviv resulted in an immediate outcry from the international community. While one would expect this move to at least enjoy the backing of the Jewish-American community, it overwhelmingly lacked such forthright support. Far from gaining traction in the Israel-Palestine peace process, this action instead served to bolster support from Trump’s base of supporters.

The history of the city of Jerusalem is one infused with the religious creeds of three of the world’s major religions and ingrained in the memories and identities of each. For Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the city serves as a center of both theological and cultural religious experience. However, Jerusalem has increasingly become a symbol of nationalism and political identity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Proposals for the status of the city of Jerusalem have ranged from sole ownership by Israel to its designation as an international city under the governance of a “special international regime.” However, popular opinion in recent years has held that Jerusalem’s status be determined through peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Many policymakers have argued that the ownership and potential division of Jerusalem be the last discussed item in the peace process.

For Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the city serves as the core of holy ritual, journey, and entanglements central to both theological and cultural religious experience.

Since 1967, the international community has identified Israeli settlement of East Jerusalem as illegal. President Trump’s decision to move the United States embassy to Jerusalem, thus officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, hinders our ability to secure lasting peace in the region. While Trump could have used this designation as a bargaining chip in order to extract some form of concession from the Israeli government in exchange for the move, he freely handed over one of the greatest incentives our country could provide Israel in a mere show of solidarity. This act of solidarity with Israel holds vast implications for the future of U.S. foreign relations and of the Middle Eastern region as a whole.

Several members of the Arab world view this act as a clear demonstration of America’s unassailable bias in favor of Israel over the Palestinian people. Therefore, Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem not only alienates some of our closest Arab allies but also inhibits our ability to secure lasting peace in the region, as it forfeits the confidence that pertinent nations have in America’s ability to impartially facilitate peace negotiations. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, stated, “the US has chosen to relinquish its competence as mediator, and to disqualify itself from playing a role in the peace process. We shall not accept any role for the United States in the peace process.” Meanwhile, a statement from a meeting of prominent leaders of the Muslim world in Istanbul declared that “Trump’s decision marked America’s disqualification as an honest broker in the IsraeliPalestinian peace process.” Through this action, Trump has not only isolated the United States from the peace process, but has also jeopardized the already precarious potential for future Palestinian-Israeli agreement as a whole.

Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem not only alienates some of our closest Arab allies but also inhibits our ability to secure lasting peace in the region as it forfeits the confidence pertinent nations have in America’s ability to impartially facilitate peace negotiations.

As the President was made keenly aware of the potentially catastrophic implications of such a decision, his determination begs the question, why? One would assume that this action would at least hold the support of the majority of the Jewish people. However, AJC’s 2017 Survey of American Jewish Opinion found that a mere 16% of Jewish Americans support Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem at this time. Meanwhile, only 36% of Jewish Americans were reported to support the move of the embassy to Jerusalem “at a later date in conjunction with progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.” These reports suggest that Trump’s decision, lacking of the approval of a plurality of the Jewish American community, was not made in alignment with this community’s desires.

However, a different domestic community may have had a more significant influence on Trump’s decision. A poll conducted by the Brookings Institution found that 53% of American evangelicals favored Trump’s decision. Evangelicals’ consistent support of pro-Israel policies stems from both theologically and racially-charged notions. While a portion of evangelicals hold that, in order for Jesus to return to Earth, the Jewish people must be in possession of Israel, other evangelicals believe that the United States should join with Israel as part of a religious alliance between Jewish and Christian civilizations against Islam.

The America Trump seeks to prioritize is not the ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse America as it exists in its current state but rather as the white, predominantly Christian America that he and his base of supporters champion.

Trump may have used this action to solidify the evangelical hold on governmental decisions. This would suggest that Trump’s actions align perfectly with his “American first” foreign policy objectives as defined by both campaign rhetoric and his inaugural address. However, the America he seeks to prioritize is not the ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse America as it exists in its current state but rather as the white, predominantly Evangelical Christian America that he and his base of supporters champion.

Rachel Olick-Gibson studies in the College of Arts & Sciences and she can be reached at rachel.olick-gibson@wustl.edu.

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