Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move a policy misstep

Thursday December 07 2017

A Palestinian protester sets alight an America flag during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest near the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 7, 2017 against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. PHOTO | ABBAS MOMANI | AFP


Listening to President Donald Trump, I wondered whether his latest decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was an effort to make America great again or whether it made America weak again.

His ambiguous policy on the Middle East mirrors his wider global missteps.

His foreign policy positions lack consistency and clarity.

They suffer from a broader challenge of not having input from career bureaucrats that have the insight and knowledge of the Middle East and the world more broadly.

The effects are clearly being felt in his missteps on climate change, immigration and now the status of Jerusalem.

Mr Trump’s speech on declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel was centred on the “Jerusalem Embassy Act”.



He failed to appreciate the reason his predecessors failed to implement the Act.

Past presidents have viewed it as an overreach of legislative (congressional) powers into the traditional role of the Executive (President) in directing American foreign policy.

Also, the speech failed to recognise the numerous United Nations resolutions on the status of Jerusalem. 

It also failed to assess the position of key religious voices such as the Pope and the Dalai Lama, the positions of American allies in the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union on the status of Jerusalem.

More importantly, it is a departure from over 70 years of American diplomacy in the region. This is an unprecedented step because it hurts US regional interests.

The President has departed from a principal foundation of American foreign policy.

This is continuity in foreign policy decisions across ideological differences in pursuit of core American interests. His speech fails to recognise Jerusalem as a contested city.


East Jerusalem, the Arab part, is considered occupied territory by the UN and many world governments. It is puzzling to observers how the recognition of Jerusalem enhances the Middle East peace process.

On the contrary, it emboldens right-wing elements in President Netanyahu’s coalition government to expand Israeli settlements in the occupied territories like East Jerusalem. It also disincentives Israel from negotiating with the Palestinians for a two-state solution.

As a historical city, Jerusalem is the birthplace of three religions Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The decision only plays into the hands of right-wing elements in the Likud-led coalition in Israel. While Mr Trump could have his eye on strengthening his base and expanding his allies in the American Jewish community in America in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, this move could backfire because of his proclivity to abruptly shift positions on major topical issues.

Mr Trump’s position will be used by radical Islamist groups to increase their support base among the Arab population.


December 6 is a day American diplomacy received a black eye in the Middle East. It will go a long way in undermining US interests in the Middle East.

It also puts US allies like Kenya in a precarious position. Palestinians are quoted on Al Jazeera as calling for “Days of Rage” over the US Jerusalem plan.

This will likely lead to yet another intifada and wider regional unrest.

I wish he had read another American president’s thoughts on foreign policy.

Thomas Jefferson’s thinking is epitomised in this quote: “A spirit of justice and friendly accommodation is our duty and our interest to cultivate with all nations”.

The spirit of justice and friendly accommodation between Jews and Arabs has been dealt a massive blow today.

Dr Monda teaches in the Political Science Department, City University of New York.[email protected]