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Trump's Role in the Israeli-Palestine Peace Process: Progressive or Destabilizing?

The controversial “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict would, as the name suggests, allow Israel and Palestine to coexist as independent, neighboring nations. Although Judeo-Islamic disputes rampaged the Middle East for centuries, the United Nations agreed that only a two-state solution can bring peace. As current U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres articulated, “There is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B,” reaffirming the sovereignty of both nations. The U.N. first proposed the two-state solution in a 1947 Security Council Resolution that, in an attempt to ameliorate conflict, declared Israel and Palestine sovereign; this same resolution declared Jerusalem an “international zone” owned by none, open to all, and run by the United Nations.



For decades, Jerusalem’s jurisdiction represented political and religious power in the Middle East, as it contains the holiest site in Judaism, the third holiest mosque in Islam, and sacred ground in Christianity, making it among the most prized territories in the world. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis wished to sacrifice rule of Jerusalem. Both were also concerned for the wellbeing of their respective peoples that lived under the rule of the other group, i.e., Muslims in Israel and Jews in Palestine.. As a result, both groups contested the two-state solution; and despite resistance, the U. N. approved the plan.

Within the year, the 1948 Palestine War, known in Hebrew as the War of Independence, erupted. The first phase of the war consisted of civil war in Palestine, originating from tensions between Jewish and Muslim populations. At the time, the British ruled Palestine. However, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 was issued. Palestine gained independence and the U.N. recognized Israel as an independent nation. Israel’s militarily then, with support from Jordan, backed the Jewish side in the Palestine War, marking the start of the war’s second phase. When Israel emerged victorious, it illegally annexed portions of Palestinian territory. Israel and Jordan also annexed West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem, respectively. Persistent violence and terrorism led to the Six-Day War in 1967, during which Israel also seized East Jerusalem. Traditionally, the U.S. spearheaded efforts in favor of the two-state solution; it attempted to establish the solution during the 1993 “Oslo Peace Process” and the 2000 Camp David Summit. However, American Congress has not always supported this decision: In 1995,  they passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which would move America’s Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As the U.S. always holds its embassies in a country’s capital, this move would acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel's capital. However, every president since this act’s passage employed the presidential waiver built into the bill every six months to prevent the relocation due to national security interests in the region.


President Donald Trump made two unprecedented claims in addressing this peace process. First, Trump acknowledged Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and claimed the recognition as “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” As a result, Trump intends to follow through with the Jerusalem Embassy Act once the U.S. logistically prepares to build a new embassy in Jerusalem. Second, Trump announced that we should gain peace in the Middle East by any means, not necessarily the two-state solution, a further deviation from U.S. precedent. Critics assert that Trump’s lack of commitment to the two-state solution will undermine peace efforts. Failure to support the two-state solution also indicates direct opposition to the U.N. .

Since Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.N. voted to condemn Trump’s recognition with 128 members in favor and 9 against. U.N.Secretary-General Guterres criticized Trump’s unilateral peace tactics, claiming that jurisdiction over Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations, not an effort to initiate discussion. Some of the U.S.’s strongest allies spoke out against Trump’s approach. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative referenced the 1980 U.N. Security Council Resolution, which condemns Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem to emphasize that the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital does not affirm a pre-existing reality. British Prime Minister Theresa May labeled Trump’s statements, “unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region,” French President Emmanuel Macron called the decision “regrettable,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued that Germany, “does not support this position, because the status of Jerusalem is to be resolved in the framework of a two-state solution.” Many have interpreted Trump’s decision as a direct offense to the Muslim community such as the U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, who called the decision a “flagrant provocation to Muslims.” 

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley confirmed that the U.S. will move its embassy to Jerusalem regardless of the U.Nations’ condemnation. When the U.N. voted to condemn Trump’s decision, he threatened to defund US foreign aid to these countries claiming “We’re watching these votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.” Trump’s political opponents labeled  him a hazard to democracy in the U.N., as countries must choose between voicing their opinion and receiving help. Currently, 86 nations hold embassies in Tel Aviv, but if the U.S.follows through with its embassy relocation, it will do so alone. However, both Guatemala and the Czech Republic have expressed interest in moving their embassies to Jerusalem since Trump’s recognition, indicating that he may influence other countries to consider the change. Although unlikely that many will make the change, even if a few follow his lead, breaking the international community’s trust will prove difficult to repair.

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