In his declaration of US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Donald Trump repeatedly tried to justify his break with 70 years of United States policy of refusing to recognise Israel's unilateral appropriation of the city as its capital, which is unrecognised by any other state.
By taking this stand the American president has removed, as far as Washington is concerned, Jerusalem as a key final-status issue in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
In 1949, after Israel conquered West Jerusalem, Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, proclaimed it Israel's "eternal capital". Following Israel's 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, passed a law declaring the city "complete and unified" as the capital of Israel.
Neither the Jewish state nor the Arab state – which never came into being – was to make Jerusalem its capital. The European Union remains committed to this policy
Trump had clearly bought into Israel’s claims of ownership of Jerusalem when he argued that Israel is “a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital”. He reinforced this statement by saying Jerusalem was the ancient “capital of the Jewish people” and is today the seat of Israel’s government; the home of the Knesset, supreme court, president and prime minister.
But his statement ignores the truth. According to the United Nations partition plan of November 29th, 1947, which legitimised the emergence of a Jewish state in Palestine, Jerusalem was meant to be a corpus separatum, governed by an international body. Neither the Jewish state nor the Arab state – which never came into being – was to make Jerusalem its capital. The European Union remains committed to this policy.
Trump said Jerusalem "must remain" a place where Jews, Christians and Muslims are free to worship at their holy sites, dismissing the fact that Christian and Muslim Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza cannot visit Jerusalem unless they obtain passes issued sparingly by Israel.
He held his shift in policy was not meant to take “a position on final-status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”, as this issue is “up to the parties involved”.
If Trump had recognised West Jerusalem as Israel's capital and East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital he would also have pre-empted negotiations, but even-handedly
But his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital pre-empted in Israel’s favour the resolution of the final status of the city that Palestinians also claim as their capital. If he had recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital he would also have pre-empted negotiations, but even-handedly.
Trump reiterated the position he laid down in February that the US would support "a two-state solution if agreed by both sides". Following a meeting at the time with Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, Trump said, "I'm looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like. I can live with either one."
This meant the United States, as mediator, was no longer committed to promoting the two-state solution endorsed by the international community.
Commenting on Trump's refusal to press for a Palestinian state, the former US ambassador to Israel and peace envoy Martin Indyk said, "It's another nail in the coffin of the peace process, which already had a lot of nails in it."
When asked in March whether no Palestinian state would emerge under his leadership, Netanyahu replied, "Indeed". Without a Palestinian state there can be no two-state solution. On August 29th, while visiting a West Bank settlement, Netanyahu said, "We are here to stay forever. There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel," foreclosing on settlements as a final-status issue to be negotiated. It must be assumed Trump is aware of Netanyahu's stand.
Until Trump took office the two-state solution reached through negotiations over Jerusalem and settlements were three pillars of US policy on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Having kicked them over, Trump still speaks of an “ultimate peace deal”.