Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

15 Dec


[Prefatory Note: The following post is a modified version of an article published on December 8th in Middle East Eye. It considers the normative and geopolitical sides of Trump’s unilateralism. Apologists claiming Trump finally acknowledged the operational reality that Jerusalem has been serving as the capital of Israel for the last 50 years, and the disruptive effects have been exaggerated as Saudi Arabia has not reacted in a strongly negative manner. Critics, including myself, regard the initiative as a gratuitous slap at the Palestinians and a further confirmation of Trump’s disregard of international law, international morality, and the authority of the United Nations. The status of Jerusalem serves as a focal point for the tension between the old geopolitics of hard power realism and the normative geopolitics of soft power new realism that is struggling through a birthing process in many settings. In my view the resolution of this tension will shape the trajectory of 21st century humanity. In other words, the stakes are high.]


Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital


With the deftness of a bull in a china shop, Donald Trump has ignored the advice of several close advisors, disregarded the fervent pleas of several of Israel’s closest Arab neighbors, ignored warnings of America’s traditional allies in the Middle East and Europe, and ruptured a key element of an international consensus that had long prevailed at the UN, by going ahead to proclaim formally Washington’s view that Jerusalem is and will be the capital of Israel. Such a declaration serves also to rationalize the prior pledge to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv, the city where every other country in the world insists on maintaining its government to government relationship with Israel, to the city of Jerusalem, sacred to all three of the monotheistic religions.


The most obvious question to pose is one of motivations: Why? Strange as it may seem to those living in the Middle East, the most persuasive explanation is that Trump saw this act of recognition as an opportunity to show his most fervent supporters at home that he was being true to his campaign promises. Trump has been frustrated during the first year of his presidency by his embarrassing inability to carry out the program that helped get him elected in 2016. It is true that by taking this further step toward relocating the American embassy Trump’s popularity in Israel spiked and as he has pointed out he is actually doing what his predecessors and Congress has long proposed.


In essence, Trump seems to have taken this internationally controversial step because he cares about pleasing the Christian Zionists and the Israeli Lobby in America more than he does about ruffling the feathers of UN diplomats, possibly inflaming the Arab masses, removing the last shred of doubt among Palestinians that the U.S. could ever be trusted to play the role of ‘honest broker,’ or even partisan intermediary, in the pursuit of a two-state solution, and perhaps most of all, connecting American foreign policy in the turbulent Middle East is some durable and coherent way with strategic national interests in regional stability.


From this perspective, Trump has once again demonstrated his extraordinary talent for choosing the worst possible alternative in delicate international situations where dire consequences could follow from the wrong policy turn, and the rewards of going it alone seem minimal and transient, at best.

This vivid instance of Jerusalem unilateralism parallels the geopolitical stupidity of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015 a few months ago. There also the Trump approach to foreign policy seemed perversely designed to burnish its already secure reputation as the first rogue superpower of the nuclear age. This global spoiler role is also dangerously evident in the apocalyptic threat diplomacy adopted by Trump in the Korean Peninsula as a response to Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons program, which include provocative bluster, weapons developments, and grave risks of mutual miscalculation.  


Liberal opinion in the U.S. and abroad lamented the Trump initiative on Jerusalem for the wrong reasons. Especially prominent was the assertion in various forms that Trump had damaged, if not destroyed, the ‘peace process,’ and its special role as convening party. Such a concern presupposes that a peace process sufficiently existed to be susceptible to being destroyed. While promising ‘the deal of the century,’ Trump turned over his supposed peace offensive, to pro-Zionist extremists and settler fundamentalists (David M. Friedman, Jared Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt) whose obvious goal was not peace, but putting the finishing touches on what they regarded as an Israeli victory that only needed a face-saving exit arrangement for the Palestinian Authority to complete the job. Working in tandem with the Netanyahu leadership, the Trump effort has been so far focused on killing ‘the two-state solution,’ at least in its claim to satisfy reasonable Palestinian expectations of self-determination in the form of a viable and truly independent sovereign state with its capital in East Jerusalem. In its place, one supposes that the Trump ‘dream team’ will come up with a non-viable polity in what remains under Palestinian control in the West Bank, either tied to Gaza or separated in some enduring way, affronting reality by calling the plan a fulfillment of two-state expectations, and dismissing Palestinian objections as ‘rejectionism,’ a stubborn insistence on having it all, and in the end, a take it or leave it version of Hobson’s Choice.


As matters now stand, the status quo is also very unfavorable from the point of view of the Palestinian national struggle and the implementation of the international community’s version of a reasonable compromise. This status quo of occupation and dispossession facilitates the continuing conversion of the 1967 ‘occupation’ of Palestinian territory into a permanent reality that unlawfully blends the annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem with the maintenance of control over the Palestinian people by means of apartheid structures of subjugation. If this assessment is correct, then moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem can be seen as supportive of Netanyahu’s apparent conception of the end-game of this hundred year struggle between the national aspirations of these two embattled peoples. In this regard, the bluntness of the Trump approach exposes to the world an ugly reality that should have been obvious all along to anyone looking at Israeli behavior with a critical eye, or grasping the policy fallout from the ‘America First’ mantra.

What gives this regressive turn its plausibility, posing yet another challenge to the Palestinian movement, is the blind eye that the new look in Riyadh has turned toward even the Judaization of Jerusalem, which would seem to confirm the Saudi priority of geopolitical collaboration with the United States and Israel, even at the expense of fundamental Islamic concerns and the maintenance of solidarity in the Muslim world. In this sense, it is well to take some note of the declaration of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), endorsed by all 57 of its member states (including Saudi Arabia), that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, denying Israel any right to a formal governing process in the city.


While this substantive analysis helps us grasp the geopolitical context that makes recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a kick in the groin of Palestinian delusions about a viable peace diplomacy while at the same time leading most Israelis to dance in the streets. It also underscores the hypocrisy of the international community’s call for reviving the peace process when it should long have been evident that Israeli settlement expansion as well as Tel Aviv’s approach to Jerusalem had passed the point of no return, and thus the occasion for abandoning an unworkable diplomacy, and facing with honesty the daunting question—‘What next?.’ Israel’s recent behavior makes it clear for all except hasbarists that the Israeli government has no current willingness whatsoever to end the conflict if this means creating an independent Palestinian state delimited by 1967 borders, thereby encompassing West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. For Israel the alternatives are perpetuating the apartheid status quo or allowing for the emergence of ‘Bantustan Palestine’ as the diplomatic price that the Netanyahu leadership is willing to pay for a certification of ‘peaceful solution.’


From the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to this historic moment acknowledging Israel’s claims to Jerusalem, Zionism and since 1948, the state of Israel, have disseminated a double-coded message to the world. In its public utterances, Israel’s public posture is one of a readiness for compromise and peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, while its practices and actual objectives, can only be understood as the step by step consistent pursuit of the visionary ideal of Greater Israel or Our Promised Land. The present Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, in the course of thanking Trump for standing so strongly with Israel, told an American TV audience that Jerusalem has been truly the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. No where has Israel’s double-coding been more evident than in relation to Jerusalem. It uses the grandiose claims of Jewish religion tradition when it can and the somewhat more constraining diplomacy of statecraft when it offers opportunities, and does its best to avoid altogether the precepts of international humanitarian law or the UN consensus.


On the public discourse side stands Israel’s public acceptance of the partition arrangements embodied in General Assembly Resolution 181, which included the internationalization of Jerusalem under UN administration. More critically viewed from a behavioral discourse perspective, Israel’s actual conduct flagrantly consistently defied international law by formally enlarging and annexing Jerusalem as ‘the eternal capital’ of the Jewish people and manipulating the demographics and cultural heritage of the city in ways that made it seem more credible to regard the whole of Jerusalem as a Jewish city.


It is difficult for even notorious Israeli apologists, such as Elliot Abrams or former American ambassadors to Israel to defend the actual Trump decision. Such apologists prefer to adopt a default position. Yes, the timing of the White House initiative was tactically questionable, but its international condemnation greatly exaggerates its importance and inappropriateness. They view criticisms and concerns as overblown, amounting to a display of ‘heavy breathing.’ In effect these apologists agree with Trump’s core contention that the acceptance of Israel’s claim to have its capital in Jerusalem, is an overdue recognition of reality, nothing more, nothing less, and that the rest of the world will have to learn to live with this recognition. Time will tell whether this downplaying of fears of renewed violence of resistance and anti-Americanism are anything other than a feeble attempt by apologists to reaffirm Israel’s legitimacy in the face of what should turn out to be a geopolitical fiasco.


What should dismay the region and the world the most about Trump’s Jerusalem policy is its peculiar mixture of ignoring law, morality, and the international consensus while so blatantly harming America’s more constructively conceived national interests and tradition of global leadership. This mixture becomes toxic with respect to Jerusalem because by humiliating the Palestinian national movement and ignoring the symbolic status of Jerusalem for Muslims and the Arab peoples, it makes violent extremism more likely while lending support to existing postures of anti-Americanism. How incoherent and self-defeating to proclaim the defeat of ISIS and political extremism as the top American priority and then making this Jerusalem move that is virtually certain to produce populist rage and an extremist backlash. No ISIS recruiter could have wished for more!

18 Responses to “Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital”

  1. ray032 December 15, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

    President Trump announcing Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel is an example of ‘fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.’

    Even the Christians in the Middle East oppose Trump’s announcement, but the Christian stake and interest in Jerusalem is not calculated in the equation between Jew and Muslim.

    What Trump did was his typical shell game. His words did not come cheap. So far, 6 Palestinians have died because of Trump’s words. The reality is, he signed the 6 month waiver exempting, in the name of US National Security, the immediate move of the Embassy to Jerusalem just like all the other Presidents before him.

    What he has done, in unleash the Spirit of these words of Christ Alpha,
    O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones them that are sent to you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
    Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, You shall not see me, until the Time come when you shall say, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. – Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35

    Furthermore, it is the recorded view of Christ Jesus, Alpha and Omega, the hour comes, and now is, when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.[…] God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and in Truth. – John 4:4-24

    Thus says the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that you build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?
    For all those things has my hand made, and those things have been, says the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.- Isaiah 66:1-2

    This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying: ‘Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts – Zechariah 4:6

    Who has believed our report?

  2. Dr Dayan Jayatilleka December 16, 2017 at 4:17 am #

    Richard’s conceptual ‘light sabre’ has carved through the politically correct ‘fat’ surrounding the issue. His solution is well within the tradition of progressive thinkers from Marx to Luxemburg whose solution to the Jewish Question was to embed it in a total systemic change. Richard does this for the Jewish and Palestinian Questions.

    However, one reality–the eating away of the territorial basis of the two state solution– encounters another: after the experience of Nazi Germany, the Jewish people will be loathe to risk being citizens in a state where they may no longer be a majority.

    In the American South as well as in South Africa, there was at least one factor in common, that of a shared religious faith, however differently interpreted and structurally embedded. In Israel/Palestine the civilizational contradiction is greater.

    I suppose that Edward Said’s specific position of recognizing Israel while arguing against the abandonment of the first Intifada in favour of Oslo, has been proven correct, but is no longer practicable.

    Perhaps things are more tragically intractable than we think. On the Palestinian side, some are reacting to the undermining of the two state solution by reverting to the old slogan of reversing 1948 and the Nakba– which is understandable but is hardly viable or helpful.

    Perhaps it will take protracted guerrilla warfare along Hezbollah lines, but fought more ethically, for a new reality to be accepted by both sides.

  3. Fred Skolnik December 16, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    I have already commented on the issue of Jerusalem. As for Netanyahu’s intentions, he reiterated his commitment to the two-state solution a week ago when he pointed out to the Europeans that the settlements are not the issue, since in any case 80% of them (the so-called settlement blocs) will remain in Israeli territory in the two-state solution (predicated on a land swap). When you use the derogatory term “hasbarists,” implying that whoever defends or supports Israel is some kind of hired gun, you are only proclaiming your inability to deal with their arguments. What is worse, when you toss around the term Bantustan you are also revealing that you have very little understanding of West Bank geography. As someone who does have an understanding of West Bank geography, I find it hard to see how any projected territorial configuration will bring about such a situation. I do remember the roundabout way that Israelis had to travel between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem until 1967 because Jordan held the Latrun salient, which added around half an hour to the trip. So what? That is far more that any inconvenience the Palestinians will face in even the worst case, if at all.

    • Gene Schulman December 17, 2017 at 1:44 am #

      Well, it’s nice to see Fred back on the blog. It gives me an opportunity throw this Counterpunch article at him: I’m sure he’s been missing them. This one even quotes Richard, so it’s all in the family.

      Meanwhile, let’s all pray/hope that Richard is safe and sound in Santa Barbara, where hellfire seems to have found a home.

      • Fred Skolnik December 17, 2017 at 9:04 am #

        Unfortunately what you are throwing is the proverbial bull and whoever embraces it is guaranteeing another hundred years of misery for the Palestinians. I can’t think of a single remark you have made in all these years that demonstrates the slightest interest in a practical solution to the conflict. As I’ve said more than once, it’s not the Palestinians as victims that interests people like yourself but Israel (and America) as culprits. Take a moment one day and ask yourself what good all this anti-Israel bilge is doing anyone, other than giving its authors the opportunity to get a lot of hostility off their chests.

      • Gene Schulman December 18, 2017 at 4:25 am #

        My dear Fred,

        ” Israel (and America) as culprits.” Indeed, that is what interests me. The Palestinians ‘must suffer what they must’ (to paraphrase Yanis Varoufakis). Israel and America ARE the culprits. That is the problem you fail to recognise. Their policies are what make any solution to the problem impossible. Perhaps if you were to recognise that, even you might take a more even sided view.

      • Fred Skolnik December 19, 2017 at 2:56 am #

        As Prof. Falk is not allowing me to reply to yoy, I hope he will not object to my asking you to tell us how you yourself or even Prof. Falk or anyone else here are taking an “even-sided” view.

    • Sean Breathnach December 18, 2017 at 2:37 am #

      Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, is just another sidetrack of Mueller’s investigation. As for Netanyahu’s intentions for a two-state solution, settlements are the issue. They have destroyed any chance of a two-state solution. Israel, is a rogue, apartheid state. Let’s call a spade, a spade.

      • Fred Skolnik December 18, 2017 at 9:48 am #

        Not in the least. Any ten-year-old child with an elementary understanding of West Bank and Israeli geography can draw a map that places three-quarters of the settlements inside Israel on 5-10% of West Bank land, carves out a comparable piece of Israeli land in exchange (Wadi Ara, for example), and the result will be a geographically viable Palestinian state. As for the apartheid business, no one has authorized you to rewrite the dictionary. Israel is an occupying power and the Palestinians are an occupied people, in precisely the same way that the Allies were an occupying power in World War II and the Germans an occupied people. and you can be sure that the Allied occupation would have been ten times more oppressive than anything the Palestinans have endured if the Germans had engaged in acts of terror against Allied civilians inside and outside Germany

      • Richard Falk December 18, 2017 at 10:19 am #

        As insulting ever..why can’t you refrain from doubting the intelligence and
        moral character of those with whom you disagree? Only then is dialogue possible.
        It presupposes some degree of mutual respect.

      • Fred Skolnik December 18, 2017 at 10:33 am #

        I am responding to slanderous attacks on the State of Israel within which you will find generic insults to anyone who supports or defends Israel, as in your own dismissal of “hasbarists” and ray’s reference to my “blindness.” You are again applying a double standard. I have replied substantively above to Schulman, who in the past has even suggested that Rabbi Youdovin and myself should be tried as war criminals, so why censor my comment..

      • Sean Breathnach December 18, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

        Israel is only interested in a peace, on its own unfair conditions. That’s why there has been no peace in 50 years. Quoting Stanley L. Cohen, It is well past reality’s reach that a two-state solution can, at this late date, provide a viable vehicle for meaningful Palestinian sovereignty or for overall peace.
        The notion that a series of disconnected Bantustans – stripped of a traditional land base, natural resources, and the unique centre of religious and faith-based history – can suddenly become a feasible independent state for millions of stateless Palestinians is fool’s gold.

        Ultimately, no matter what its form or shape, the essence of statehood is the ability to develop and maintain political and economic institutions and security and to control borders, including air rights and, where applicable, seaports.

        To suggest that Israel would cede any degree of meaningful self-determination, in these all-defining cornerstones of sovereignty, to a Palestinian state is simply laughable, in light of its decades-long practices.

        Indeed, at this late date, there is but one solution acceptable to the millions of Palestinian living as refugees abroad or suffering under apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing fueled by supremacist hate: one state for all from the river to the sea.” Full article is here:

        I didn’t need to read any report to know that Israel is an apartheid state, an Israeli told me.

  4. ray032 December 18, 2017 at 9:36 am #

    Does anyone remember Aaron who started his own website so creatively titled Falkuncensored?

    He sent me this message when it was online,
    Here is your chance to enjoy full uncensored platform for your opinion:

    I welcome you to come and comment at your leisure
    falkuncensored , March 14, 2016 at 4:12 am

    Would you believe it? I made a comment for the 1st time November 24 and it’s still censored.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    November 24, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Fred, how blind are you to write, ‘You should be glad that Israeli women and children are no longer being blown to pieces in buses and restaurants by barbaric Arab terrorists.’ and remain blind to the fact some Israelis were jumping for joy to see Palestinian women and children were blown to pieces by barbaric Israeli terrorist 1 ton bombs falling from the sky over Gaza?

    Whether it’s by a human suicide bomber on the ground, or a bomber in the sky, people are blown to bits. Because it’s anonymously dropped from the sky, does not give it higher moral ground in the Justice of the Cause.

    Terrorists don’t emerge from a vacuum. The 50 year brutal Israeli Military Dictatorship in the occupied West Bank of Palestine, denying Palestinians all Civil and Democratic rights enshrined in the Balfour Declaration, creates them.

    That’s part of the cost, as Jewish settlements are built on shrinking Palestinian Land. Demolishing Palestinian homes while retroactively legalizing Jewish illegally gotten Palestinian Land, does not make Palestinians love the Jews of Israel. That’s most natural, and the way the God of Abraham created people in basic Human Nature. Jews did not like that kind of arbitrary treatment when they were the weaker, oppressed people in Europe either.

    • Fred Skolnik December 18, 2017 at 10:42 am #

      What gives it higher moral ground is the fact that the bombs are being dropped on rocket launching sites. That Hamas set them up in and around hospitals, clinics, schools, playgrounds, mosques and residential buildings and did not allow its civilian population to evacuate these areas is what caused the casualties. This is a little different than the cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians.

      Terrorists emerge from ideologies. There was no brutal dictatorship when the PLO started murdering Israeli civilians.

      • Sean Breathnach December 19, 2017 at 11:14 am #

        Fred, Israeli’s have killed and terrorised Palestinians for the last 70 years and that’s a fact. I am totally against attacks on civilians in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank or anywhere. Palestinians deserve to be treated with respect, not humiliated at every hands turn. It is a sad day for the world when 14 members of the security council voted for the resolution against Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and one, the US voted against. Could 14 countries be wrong and one right, I doubt it.

  5. ray032 December 18, 2017 at 4:52 pm #

    The speculation is Trump did this to placate his devoted, unquestioning Christian Evangelical base with their blind faith in Donald Trump.

    A lot of those Evangelicals will be in for a rude awakening when they find themselves left behind to deal with the aftermath of Armageddon. Christ Jesus does not believe in any Rapture so those Christians putting their Faith in a man made doctrine are deceived by the Devils giving them a false sense of security for Praising the Lord and passing the ammunition.

    Even Atheists know about the Lord’s Prayer, but the Lord has a lessor known, other Prayer as it’s recorded,
    [15] I pray not that you should take them out of the world, (Rapture) but that you should keep them from the evil. John 17
    That is a totally different Faith.

    The Jews want to built a 3rd Temple and re-instate animal blood sacrifice as the atonement for sin. Supporting Israel in that project denies Christ Jesus, who is the One and Only Atonement for Sin, for All People, for All Time. That is Fundamental Belief of Christianity, and they aren’t aware of it, having Idolized temporal Israel of the Old Testament.

    The Evangelicals interpret the growing signs of a coming Armageddon as “evidence” of God. God must have sealed these verses from their understanding. The signs of Armageddon happening, is evidence the Devil has taken over this material world.

    ‘And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. (false beliefs about God in Judaism, Christianity & Islam. Written some 500 years before Islam, the 3rd arm from the Jewish religious record appeared)

    For they are the spirits of DEVILS, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth (the 1%, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Senators, CEOs, and other Idols of the People) and of the whole world, (the rest of Humanity) to gather them to the Battle of that Great Day of God Almighty. (the war is already underway between Judaism, Christianity and Islam leading to the climax of that Great Day)

    Behold, I come as a thief. (when you least expect it)

    Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
    And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.’
    Revelation 16:13-16

    Armageddon was derived from Har Megiddo, located in Judea and Samaria of occupied Palestine 2000 years ago. Israel as a kingdom disappeared some 800 years before Jesus walked in the area during the occupation.

    Har Megiddo/Armageddon still exists as a physical place in this material world, but is now under the control of temporal Israel re-created from the Bible after an absence of some 2800 years.
    After all those years, the occupation of Judea and Samaria in Palestine is still an unresolved, violent, open wound in the Middle East and this material world.


  1. “. . . with their dyed hair and Italian shoes, they play prophet on golf courses . . .” (Mourid Barghouti) – Palestine InSight - December 16, 2017

    […] ITS  CAPITAL  IN  AN  OCCUPIED  CITY Palestine Chronicle Richard Falk Dec. 13, 2017 ― (Richard Falk  is Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. He was the United Nations […]

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