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December 25, 2018 8:09 am

Will Trump Try to Divide Jerusalem in Three?

avatar by Daniel Pipes / JNS.org

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An aerial view of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org Writing in Al-Monitor, Ben Caspit has leaked reported details of the Trump administration’s “ultimate deal” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Caspit writes that the Trump plan “includes a clear partition of Jerusalem into three sections,” and quotes an anonymous “senior diplomatic source” as saying, “It is not about a Palestinian capital in Abu-Dis (a Palestinian village in the Jerusalem governance area) but in significant sections of east Jerusalem.” He writes that according to this source, there will be two capitals in Jerusalem: the Israeli capital in western Jerusalem and the Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem, including the Western Wall — and the capital of Palestine in the Arab parts of eastern Jerusalem. A third region, within the Holy Basin, would be under international control.

“Interesting if true” should be our first response, since prior leaks have proved to be inaccurate. But let us suppose that this anonymous senior diplomatic source knows of what he speaks. What then?

The idea of putting any area “under international control” curiously harks back to the 1947 UN partition plan’s ill-fated, but enduring notion of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum. In other words, it is anachronistic. The idea is also wildly dangerous: Imagine placing one of the world’s most sensitive locations under the control of the UN General Assembly or the Middle East Quartet. Their inevitable mischief could well set off the next round of fighting.

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The reported Trump plan would wrestle away sovereign areas of Israel and hand them to the Palestinians. Doing so rewards the Palestinians, despite their fulfilling basically none of their prior commitments dating back to the Oslo Accords of 1993, thereby encouraging further Palestinian bad behavior (including more terrorism).

Making eastern Jerusalem into the capital of Palestine implies that the US government recognizes a “State of Palestine.” Donald Trump’s remarks over the past year suggest that he is likely to demand that the government of Israel recognize this state too, which would set off a huge debate in Israel.

This state of Palestine will reportedly include parts of Jerusalem and, presumably, most of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip. Where the borders should run in the first two areas will drive a massive argument. A second will follow when the Palestinians, inevitably, decide that Palestine includes all of Israel too.

In addition, as Caspit points out, a proposal to divide Israel into three will roil Israeli politics and harm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will no longer be able to satisfy both his nationalist base and the US president.

As in other cases where Trump follows his instincts against the Republican consensus (imposing tariffs, pulling troops from Syria), the far left-wing of the Democratic Party will (very faintly) applaud. This time, so will the European Union.

In contrast, many of Trump’s Israeli and Zionist admirers, including evangelical Christians, will be shocked by his proposal and lash out. Given prior patterns (again, tariffs and Syria), one can confidently predict what would happen next: Trump will respond angrily and double down, vaporizing the US-Israel honeymoon of the past two years. Trump supporters will bitterly divide over this issue, further weakening the conservative movement and diminishing Trump’s chances of reelection.

If Caspit is correct about Trump proposing to divide Jerusalem into three, the consequences will be major and long-lasting.

Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.‎

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