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Kathryn Cross | Wellesley College

President Donald J. Trump made a statement in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Dec. 6, formally violating international law and setting back thousands of years of peacemaking processes and foreign relations.

Trump’s statement surrounded the capital of Israel, which 1980 Jerusalem Law set as the city of Tel Aviv.  Nonetheless, Trump chose to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, validating Israel’s current government and invalidating any Palestinians who disagree with Israeli rule.

“In 1995, Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize that that city--and so importantly--is Israel’s capital,” Trump said.  “Yet, for over 20 years, every previous American president has exercised the law’s waiver, refusing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.”

Trump’s announcement is undoubtedly problematic because both Israel and Palestine have claimed Jerusalem to be their capital in the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Trump made an irrational decision to solve an issue that the United States is not directly involved with.  

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has consistently gained tension--especially since 1967, when a war culminated with Israel controlling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  This inflamed the territorial conflict further because both of those territories have an Arab and Muslim majority, but since 1967, they have been under Israeli rule.

Palestinians do not like being under Israeli rule because Israel applies over 50 laws that give Jews more privilege than Arabs, although approximately 25 percent of Israel’s population is not Jewish, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

For instance, Human Rights Watch reported that 43 percent of Israeli towns have residential admission committees, which are--by law--meant to “exclude Arabs from living in rural Jewish communities.”

And, despite the 1993 Oslo Accords outlining an American-mediated and international ongoing peace process, the United States was never meant to take a specific stand on the capital of Israel in particular.  The United States and Israel have always had friendly relations with the United States giving approximately $3 billion per year to Israel, according to Vox.  In addition, half of the United Nations Security Council resolutions that the United States vetoes are critical of Israel.  

Regardless, every president since 1995 has avoided the implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act in order to prevent the recognition of Israel’s current government in their acts of Palestinian delegitimization.

Trump should have continued along this path.  According to the Brookings Institute, a poll showed that 63 percent of American citizens oppose the move of the United States embassy.  So, Trump had no reason to move the embassy and incite further tensions in an already sensitive international issue.  

Although his true reasons for doing so are somewhat obscure, one could speculate that it is due to the fact that Trump’s presidential campaign received quite a bit of funding from American Jewish supporters of Israel’s current government.  For instance, Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson donated at least $20 million to a super Political Action Committee that was meant to take down Trump’s central opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.  In addition, Adelson donated $5 million to Trump’s inauguration committee.  To represent the gravity of people like Adelson’s donations, Renaissance Technologies is reportedly Trump’s largest campaign donor, according to Open Secrets Center for Responsive Politics.  Renaissance Technologies donated $15 million--just three times what Adelson did.

Despite Trump’s clear financial incentives to move the United States embassy, Trump should have forged along the path that past presidents have in order to avoid infringing upon the sovereignty of both the Israeli government and Palestinian residents.  He had no right to violate international law.

“It is not permissible legally to alter the status quo in the city,” Egyptian United Nations ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta said on the matter.  “This is a dangerous precedent that needs reflection.”

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