In a statement from the White House today, flanked by timeless symbols of Jewish-Muslim unity—Christmas decorations and Mike Pence—President Trump announced that he is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that he has “judged this course of action to be the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” He did not explain how it was in the best interests of either.
In an apparent attempt to soften the blow of the announcement, Trump described his vision of a holy city “where Jews worship at the Western Wall, where Christians walk the stations of the cross, and where Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa” and stated that “we are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”
But if the U.S. is not taking such a position, why bother making this announcement at all? Nothing concrete is changing today—the planned move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is also going to be put off for now for logistical reasons. And if the U.S. is still committed to reaching a peace deal, why do something that will remove any pretense that the U.S. can act as an impartial mediator in the conflict? It’s been reported that Trump’s decision was partly motivated by frustration over how little progress his peace negotiating team—led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner—has made so far. It takes a special brand of myopic impatience to confidently take on a 70-year-old problem and be frustrated by a lack of progress after less than a year. As the president might say, nobody knew the Middle East could be so complicated.
Trump did note that he, like other presidents before him, promised to do this in his campaign and that he, unlike other presidents, will follow through. In a characteristically Trumpian flourish, the former real estate developer said he would hire architects to build a new embassy that will be a “magnificent tribute to peace” (presumably, behind sturdy blast walls).
Perhaps the opportunity to one-up his predecessors and construct an impressive new building was all the justification that was needed.