Last week, President Donald Trump officially declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and pledged to move the U.S. embassy to the city, a brazen move that reinforces the Israeli occupation and fortifies the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu. He was emboldened by the support of key Democrats like Chuck Schumer, who was quick to take credit for “advising” Trump on the issue.
But Schumer did more than simply advise the President: He provoked Trump publicly, declaring in October, “As someone who strongly believes that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, I am calling for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be relocated to Jerusalem.” In doing so, Schumer was calling Trump’s bluff, which had taken the form of a campaign promise to move the embassy. Schumer was also putting his good standing with Israel before the interests of his party — and before the interests of peace.
Schumer was not alone. When questioned by Intercept reporters, Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defended the Trump administration, saying: “Well you know, it is true — the capital of Israel is Jerusalem.” Cory Booker, a staunch defender of Israel, had no comment. Even high-profile critics of Trump like Bob Corker and Steny Hoyer also backed Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.
The Washington Examiner, a conservative news platform, captured the irony well in a story about Rep. Eliot Engel’s support of Trump’s decision, even though Engel publicly supports Trump’s impeachment.
Some Democrats did express opposition to Trump’s Jerusalem move. Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized the president’s statement, issued Wednesday, saying it will make peace more difficult to achieve in the Middle East. Senators Bernie Sanders, Jeanne Shaheen, Joe Manchin and Chris Murphy expressed similar concerns. Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Trump, which she also tweeted, saying that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would “spark violence, further alienate the United States and undermine the prospects of a two-state solution.”
Yet, other responses from key Democratic Party players were more ambivalent. Rep. Nancy Pelosi issued a statement declaring, “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish homeland. But in the absence of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem now may needlessly spark mass protests, fuel tensions, and make it more difficult to reach a durable peace.”
Israel occupied and seized East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Since then, Israeli settlers have carved up East Jerusalem with settlements, displacing Palestinian residents. While the declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel has been a rallying cry of pro-occupation forces, Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community.
Yet, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been a core Democratic position. In 2016, the Democratic Party platform stated, “While Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths. Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement.”
This is precisely the kind of language Trump used in his statement.
With the Democratic Party divided, Trump took his opportunity to safely fulfill his promise and claim leadership of a “bipartisan” victory. The Democrats who followed Schumer delivered a big win to Trump and a huge loss to the Palestinians. Understandably, Palestinians have responded with outrage at this blatant breach of international law, and Israel has answered this with jet attacks on Gaza.
Thumb on the scales
Trump packaged the move as an unmasking of reality on the ground, declaring, “Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality.”
Another component of that “reality,” according to Trump, is that failure to carry through on the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act is responsible for the failure of the peace process. “After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
In fact, the 1995 Act was signed in the context of the Oslo Accords, and shared in the main flaw of the peace process that the Accords inaugurated: The United States has persistently dependably put its thumb on the scale to tip the balance in Israel’s favor. It is that support — and the corruption of the Palestinian Authority coupled with the bad faith negotiations of Israel — that has doomed the peace process.
Moving the capital to Jerusalem is about as clear a signal of U.S. bias, and the utter demise of the two-state solution, as could be imagined. As Mairav Zonszein and Aziz Abu Sarah put it, “The pretense of U.S. neutrality is finally finished.” Crucially, this also means that the hopes for the Oslo-initiated peace process are dead.
Trump went on to proclaim that “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”
This statement purposefully ignores UN Resolution 181, which was passed in 1947. It stated that “the City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum [separate entity] under a special international régime and shall be administered by the United Nations.” This was reaffirmed in 1949, after the establishment of the state of Israel, in UN Resolution 303.
Thus, Trump’s action is in defiance of international law and human rights discourse in two ways — it maintains the myth of U.S. neutrality and flaunts key, foundational resolutions. Trump’s decision maintains and intensifies is a deadly pattern in which, as always, the Palestinians will suffer. The Democratic Party, instead of defending Palestinians against this injustice, is largely part of the problem.