Middle East and North Africa

The White House's Ambiguous Jerusalem Policy

By Scott R. Anderson
Wednesday, December 20, 2017, 10:00 AM

Last week, I wrote for about the ambiguity in the president's Dec. 6 announcement that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The begins:

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump  Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing  of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy. This move places the United States on the opposite side of the issue from almost all of the international community, much of which has  his decision. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s decision as    have expressed fear as to what it might mean for regional stability. With  underway across the Middle East and Islamic world, U.S. embassies and consulates have  U.S. travelers away and announced their intent to limit or close operations. Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, have cast  on their ability to continue supporting either the U.S.-led peace process or a two-state solution, putting at risk two of the very policies that Trump would be advanced by his decision.

Even more striking than this response, however, is the utter ambiguity of the statement that preceded it. While Trump spoke of breaking from the “failed strategies of the past” and “delivering” where prior presidents “lacked courage,” his  and the official that he signed are littered with caveats and omissions that obfuscate the policy change he is implementing. No doubt, this ambiguity is intended to serve as a hedge, one that provides a point of continuity with prior U.S. policy — which had  to recognize any state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem, let alone Jerusalem as its capital — and allows the administration to avoid taking an affirmative position on some of the more controversial implications of the president’s decision. Yet in the heated context surrounding Jerusalem, such equivocation comes with its own risks.