Few issues in the Middle East are more evocative than Jerusalem. Arab leaders’ public responses to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this week have been swift and negative, at least in part because they had little forewarning of what was coming and could not afford to look like they were conceding Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim rights in the city and its holy site.
The irony is that what the president said does not concede those rights and claims. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects a reality that it is the seat of Israel’s government and that, for the Jewish state, Jerusalem will always be its capital — there is no other city that could be. For Palestinians, they too no doubt cannot envision any city but Jerusalem as the capital of their state, if and when it emerges from moribund negotiations. The president’s statement does not rule that out: On the contrary, he said that the United States is not taking a position on “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.” Those questions, he said, “are up to the parties involved.”