In a single move, US President Donald Trump has reversed Washington’s policy on a hotly contested and highly sensitive issue: the status of Jerusalem. His recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a profoundly symbolic gesture that has sparked reactions in many world capitals. Observers are speculating about the motivations behind such an explosive foreign policy decision.
A first scenario points to the role of fanatical Evangelicals, a considerable political force which played a key role in Trump’s election victory. For many decades, conservative Christians have pushed presidential candidates to commit to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem if elected. The Evangelicals believe in the Second Coming of Christ and they want to accelerate the realization of the prophecy. In their eyes, Jerusalem takes on mythical dimensions, for they believe it will set the stage for a global conflict that will, literally, bring the world to an end. Evangelical Christians make up about 30 percent of the US population, although not all believe in these prophecies. The fanatics, however, have most of the political power. Trump’s decision, according to this first scenario, was a nod to this group.
A second scenario is based on Trump’s trademark negotiating tactic, as laid out in his book “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” The idea is that the US president is pushing things to the limit in order to achieve a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He is allowing for a period of one or two years, presumably because moving the embassy will require some time, hoping that the two sides will reach a solution behind the scenes in the meantime.
White House officials who promote this theory claim that the Palestinians have, for their own domestic reasons, shown absolutely no flexibility in recent years toward Washington’s various peace initiatives. In their opinion, the prospect of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, will force them to abandon their hardline attitude and agree to a compromise solution.
The first scenario sounds crazy, but it is not. American policy is often influenced by interests and groups that are driven by their own agenda. If this is the case, then we are dealing with a gradual degeneration of American foreign policy which will manifest itself in other areas. If the second scenario is at play, then there is a serious risk. Because it’s far from certain that the negotiating tactics of a Manhattan businessman will prove to be wise and effective in the tinderbox that is the Middle East.