The storm of opposition to President Donald Trump’s December 6, 2017 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital was predictable, and has been, so far, ineffectual. More consequentially, in the following week Israeli forces killed four and wounded ten Palestinian protestors in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There were demonstrations around the world—in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Istanbul, Tokyo and in several European and American cities. The European diplomatic community was exceptionally aroused but has done nothing substantive. There will likely be a reprise of such protests if, as he announced he “may” do, President Trump travels to Israel to inaugurate a US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, coinciding with the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s establishment.
The White House announcement distinguishes between recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and establishing an embassy there and recognizing “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.” In other words, the Trump administration, like all those before it, seeks to avoid acknowledging how Israel, in defiance of UN resolutions, has altered the demographic and geographic realities of the city. Since 1967 Israel has installed some 215,000 settlers in a dozen East Jerusalem neighborhoods situated to make its annexation an irreversible fact on the ground. The United States has expressed only pro forma opposition to the entire Israeli settlement project. No Israeli government has ever been willing to engage in negotiations over removing those settlers or establishing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem proper. Following the Israeli line, the Anglo-American media typically do not consider the East Jerusalem neighborhoods to be settlements or count their inhabitants among the West Bank settler population. Hence this is effectively a distinction without a difference. Israel will persist in entrenching itself in East Jerusalem with no effective opposition.