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In Jerusalem, Palestinian perception that Trump favors Israel boils over into protest clashes
When President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and promised to move the U.S. embassy, the immediate response was relatively muted. What are the long-term, strategic consequences? Nick Schifrin talks to former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute.
Last week, President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and promised to move the U.S. Embassy, currently in Tel Aviv, to the Holy City.
The announcement overturned decades of U.S. policy, but it was met with less outrage than many feared.
Now, how the decision may echo in the region and beyond, and to special correspondent Nick Schifrin.
Judy, the president's announcement was dramatic, but the immediate response has been relatively muted. That doesn't mean, though, there aren't longer-term strategic consequences.
To consider that, I'm joined here in the studio by Paul Salem. He's the senior vice president for policy analysis, research and programs at the Middle East Institute. And Ryan Crocker, who served as ambassador to six countries across the Middle East and South Asia, he joins us from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, where he is diplomat in residence.
Paul, it seems that there are a couple reasons that we haven't seen more violence. One of them perhaps, all politics are local, in this region as well, and also maybe it's not a surprise that the U.S. supports Israel, right?
I mean, first of all, it wouldn't be correct to measure the long-term impact by the amount of protests and violence. In the Palestinian communities, both in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians are exhausted. They have been dispirited for a long time. They had very little hopes that there actually was a peace process.
This was very aggravating for them, but doesn't come as a big surprise. And they — many of them don't think having another violent intifada will get them any further.
In the Arab world, there's a lot of sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and this issue of Jerusalem has sparked a lot of emotions and some protests. But most Arabs are also mired in their own domestic problems, their domestic politics. The big uprisings of 2011 were really about domestic issues, so people care, but they don't want to ruin their own country or have a revolution because of it.
And the final part, which is Iran and its allies, Hezbollah and so on, who have been organizing protests also don't want them to get out of hand or turn violent, because they are pretty happy with the way things are.
So, Ambassador Crocker, perhaps not only a little Palestinian fatigue, but also perhaps regional fatigue?
These things can take a long time to manifest themselves.
So, I wouldn't immediately rush to the conclusion that, well, this issue is no longer significant, there wasn't any violence. I think that significance may only come clear in the months ahead.
No, and actually quite the opposite. What I think we're talking about is those longer-term strategic influences or impacts.
So, Paul Salem, one of them seems to be on the peace process. But it's not just the peace process, the effect. It's about impacts for the larger region, isn't it?
The impact on the peace process, the peace process really wasn't going anywhere, most probably, but this really maybe puts an end to even the semblance of having a peace process. It also, in the Palestinian context, weakens President Abbas, who would have been any partner even for stabilization, and strengthens Hamas, who has now called for a third intifada.
In the wider Middle East, it undermines and weakens America's partners, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and others who have worked with the U.S. on issues relating to Iran, but also were hopeful that there would be a peace plan they could be part of. It weakens and undermines them.
The ones perhaps who are happiest, other than the Israeli government itself, which certainly is very happy, are Iran and its allies and Russia's President Putin. We saw President Putin immediately take a victory lap, visiting Syria, Egypt, and Turkey all in one day, denouncing the Jerusalem decision, while also declaring victory in Syria and other places.
And it's been a great gift to Iran and Hezbollah, who have wanted to change the narrative from the carnage of Syria, which they have been embroiled in, to reviving the issue of Jerusalem, which is a very evocative issue, and pose as the champions of Jerusalem. So, they're in a middle of a rebranding. And this couldn't have come at a better time for them.
So Ambassador Crocker, is that right? Does this help Russia? Does this help Iran? Does this make it a little more difficult for the Sunni Arab states in the region who President Trump has wanted to ally with to ally with him in the future?
I'm not sure it will have that much impact. Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab states with peace agreements with Israel, have survived worse shocks than this.
I would watch Saudi Arabia, though. I do not expect to see significant criticism coming out of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, again, for the reasons Paul was talking about. They have other more immediate issues that concern them, like where the kingdom is going in general. Yemen, Iran, these are the issues that are occupying the bandwidth, not Jerusalem.
And I think it's important to also broaden out the discussion and ask whether the impact will actually be felt beyond the region.
On Friday, the United Nations Security Council held an extraordinary session in which they actually called an emergency session thanks to something the United States has done.
And let's listen now to Matthew Rycroft — he's the British permanent representative to the U.N. — criticizing President Trump and the United States.
We disagree with the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to begin preparation to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It is not in line with Security Council resolutions, and is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.
So, Paul Salem, is one of the long-term impacts actually less on the region and more the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world?
I do think so. And I think it's in line with a set of policy decisions that President Trump has taken to kind of dismantle American global leadership, whether by design or by instinct, on issues of climate change, the Pacific trade agreement.
And this decision violates decades of U.S. policy, violates U.N. Security Council resolution, violates international law, in the sense that he's recognizing, at least in East Jerusalem, territory that was occupied by force in 1967, and doing it in a way that clearly flaunts any idea of consultation beforehand or working with allies.
It seems to be part of how President Trump and some of his advisers seem to view America's role in the world.
Ambassador Crocker, is that how you see it, a lack of U.S. leadership and other countries stepping into a vacuum?
Well, clearly, the U.S. has been backing away from its traditional leadership role.
I would have to point out, though, it didn't start with President Trump. It started with President Obama. So we kind of — and we saw that most clearly, I think, with the refugee crisis, where we just were not a player.
So, yes, the backing away is — it's real, and it's potentially quite significant. And I'm sure that the French and the British will try to step into this.
But there's another bigger question there. Can they do it? And I would have to suggest that neither Britain nor France nor the two together can be an adequate substitute for the role.
There are voices now coming out of the region saying, OK, we get it. No more two-state, two-capital solutions. It will be one state, one capital, with guaranteed equal rights for all of its people.
But I think you may see some fairly dramatic things said in the months ahead.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker joining us from Princeton University, and Paul Salem from the Middle East Institute, thank you very much to you both.
Thank you, Nick.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
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