President Donald Trump has announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Fifteen years ago, Congress passed the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which included a section 214, “United States Policy with Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.” The subsections there specified certain respects in which Jerusalem would be so regarded as a matter of law.
President George W. Bush signed this bill into law, but as he did so issued a signing statement that said that he regarded § 214 as purely advisory, and he reserved the constitutional issue. Bush said, “If construed as mandatory rather than advisory” the section would “impermissibly interfere with the president’s constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States” regarding “the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states.”
In a 2015 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that law for precisely that reason. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Recognition is a matter on which the nation must speak with one voice. That voice is the President’s.”
Left Wing View
Opinions on U.S. policy toward Israel break down on left/right grounds, not perfectly but recognizably. The farther left one’s politics in other respects, the greater the likelihood is that one sees the Palestinian Arabs as an oppressed people, and the State of Israel (along with the United States to the extent the two are allied) as the oppressor. The right on the other hand tends to favor U.S. support for Israel for a number of reasons. In general, it sees Israel as an outpost of ‘western civilization’ in a part of the world that it sees as otherwise dominated by forces hostile to same.
On the left, the President’s announcement has already been met by a range of responses from “he doesn’t really mean it” to “Damn! He DOES really mean it!” In The Atlantic, Uri Friedman wrote that this is a “symbolic half-measure.” Trump declares that Jerusalem is the capital, but puts off indefinitely any move of the U.S. embassy to that capital. This satisfies his base, while bowing to the pragmatic realities.
Also perhaps on the “he doesn’t mean it” end one can place the “wag the dog” commentaries to the effect that this announcement is just one of the ways in which Trump seeks to distract the press from Russia and Mueller.
But on the “he means it” end of this range one finds Steve Redmond tweeting, “Trump’s #Jerusalem decision is clearly reckless disregard for human life. It’s impossible to see how it won’t cause violence. The sad part is that’s what Trump wants.” Or one finds David Axelrod, a political consultant and one-time advisor to President Obama, tweeting that POTUS has “recklessly and needlessly” lit a fuse “that could further inflame the Middle East.”
Right Wing View
There are voices coming from Israel (and not necessarily conservative ones) who say that the worry about inflaming violence is overwrought. Amos Yadlin, for example, the executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, tweets that the threats of violence in response to such a U.S. move are empty. “The people of the Middle East … will not go to the streets on this issue as they are focused on other issues closer to home.”
Here in the U.S., the conservative blog RedState approvingly quotes Yadlin on this subject, and echoes, “don’t be surprised if [reaction] turns out to be less than the most dire warnings suggest.”
Hypothetical mobs in the street notwithstanding, how will the governments of mostly-Islamic nation states respond to the move? Here, too, the most common rightward reaction seems to be, “this is small beer compared to ….” Ben Shapiro, of DailyWire.com, for example, tweets, “Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt all know that the anti-Iran alliance with Israel is more important than anti-Semitic pipe dreams about tossing Jews out of Jerusalem. They’ll kick and scream and then they’ll move on.”
There are those on the right who would welcome a show down on this point, because it would establish that the United States, like Israel, stands up to terrorism. That is the view, for example, of Erielle Davidson, who says that to complain about Trump’s Jerusalem decision on the ground that it incites violence is to excuse and apologize for “radical Islamic terror.”