Any person who respects the autonomy of Jewish statehood in Israel and believes in the validity of the 1967 unification of Jerusalem should be sincerely apprehensive of President Donald Trump’s decision today to officially recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
If you already hold that Jerusalem is an illegitimate capital for Israel, then it is not important for you which person chooses to recognize it and, therefore, the discussion here might not seem relevant to your views. But, if you support an American recognition of Jerusalem as a positive direction for United States foreign policy and Israeli security, then it should be central to you who makes that decision.
Earning recognition of its capital’s legitimacy is crucial for Israel’s long-term geopolitical strategy. Several imperatives — security, economic and moral — which are often represented together in the form of United Nations resolutions, place constant pressure on the Jewish State to seek approval from the international community.
Israel’s first major security achievement was their recognition of legitimacy by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978, which marked the beginning of the end of Israel’s conflict with the Arab world at-large. Once Israel was seen to have a right to exist in the Middle East, and that it would not disappear soon, there was no practical justification to mobilize armies against it.
Some contend that if the world recognized the legitimacy of Jerusalem, a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis could become more realistic. Each negotiation attempt has disintegrated over the disputed claims for Jerusalem, despite President Clinton’s attempt to circumvent the issue until the last minute.
Put simply, the Palestinians cannot accept a deal without Jerusalem. Yet it is likely that this is true only because the legitimacy of Jerusalem is still contested on the world stage. If there is international consensus that Jerusalem is Israeli, Palestinian leadership would have a much more viable path to negotiate an agreement for statehood in the West Bank.
However, whether you agree with either of the premises I have laid out so far, the critical issue in Trump’s case is that his endorsement does not aid the international legitimacy of Israel. In fact, it has precisely the opposite effect.
Trump’s explicit denunciations of the international community, his blatant refusals to participate in or endorse global-environmental projects and the public corrosion of his moral character has stirred together to create a perfect storm of illegitimacy in the eyes of the world. In practice, this has resulted in a notable weakening of American influence.
This year, France surpassed the United States in The Soft Power 30 report published by the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, which is used as a benchmark by national governments as well as policy analysts. Legitimacy defines a dimension of international power that transcends sheer military or economic force.
Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term ‘soft power,’ wrote in 2005 of China’s post-Maoist strategy to eclipse the U.S. as the world’s moral authority. The tactics of this strategy are visible in China’s leadership on climate change. The goal of the 2015 deal between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Barack Obama was to equate the legitimacy of China with that of the U.S., but the very moment China walked in the room, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Paris Agreement, proclaiming America’s exit. The confrontational nature of this Thucydides-style dynamic only augments the declining global authority of the United States.
The reality is that the current president is the least legitimate in recent history. In addition to his lack of international clout, Trump faces endless scrutiny in the domestic realm as well. Aside from the fact that evidence continues to surface connecting the 2016 election to Russian collusion, Trump lost the popular vote of that election by almost three million votes. If the political capital of a White-House administration stems from their ‘popular mandate,’ which the election of an American president is supposed to represent, Trump is currently in an undeniable position of poverty.
We must accept that certain policy choices we might find otherwise favorable are indeed counterproductive if executed by the current administration.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem will not serve the strategic goal he hopes to accomplish for Israel, rather, it will force the Jewish State to spend the next decade dissociating itself from Trump’s globally recognized illegitimacy.
Contact contributor at Jeremy Etelson firstname.lastname@example.org.