Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a very good move that aids the pursuit of peace, does not concern America’s closest Arab allies and tells the world the president will do what he says he will do.
On Wednesday, Trump announced the United States was formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, explaining it was simply a confirmation of reality.
“We’ve been living in a delusion by not acknowledging the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” said Bolton. “Israel is probably the only country in the world where the American embassy is not in the capital city of the country to which our diplomats are accredited. What Trump did was nothing more or nothing less than making Israel the same as every other country where we’ve got an ambassador.”
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Bolton said that in the seven decades of the modern Israeli state, it’s clear where the center of government is. But he added that Trump left room open for the Palestinians to still get some of what they want.
Hear the interview:
“West Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital ever since the creation of the new state. Trump was very careful in his statement that putting the embassy in West Jerusalem, where it’s obviously going to be, doesn’t prejudice discussions about the borders of Jerusalem or the borders of Israel itself,” said Bolton.
Bolton noted the fate of Jerusalem has been debated since the aftermath of World War II. Originally, the United Nations wanted the city to be under its control and not part of a Jewish state or an Arab state. The Arab nations rejected the deal, but ever since the status of Jerusalem was thought to be a major negotiating point towards a two-state solution.
Trump is getting substantial blowback from Democrats, U.S. allies and the American foreign policy establishment, even though presidents and lawmakers from both parties have overwhelmingly endorsed recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for decades.
So what’s changed now?
“Political talk is cheap and there’s a lot of cheap talk in Washington. What Trump has done here is throw all of that into perspective. He not only said he was going to do this on the campaign trail. He has actually set it in motion,” said Bolton.
Bolton expects Trump to reap some domestic political benefit for keeping the promise but suspects the greater impact will be other world leaders observing what Trump has done.
“This guy actually does what he says he’s going to do. So when he says on North Korea, ‘My only acceptable result is denuclearization,’ he may really mean it. So I think it builds his credibility domestically and internationally and distinguishes him from his predecessors in the White House and a lot of other American politicians,” said Bolton.
But Bolton said it wasn’t just cheap talk that delayed this recognition for so long. The U.S. was effectively bullied into never following through on the issue.
“What this has really boiled down to for a long time is the threat of using brute force to intimidate the United States not to acknowledge the reality of where Israel’s capital is. Unfortunately, I think the lesson has been that the threat works. The intimidation works. We didn’t move the embassy to Jerusalem,” said Bolton.
In the wake of Trump’s announcement, Palestinian leaders have called for “days of rage,” and the lead Palestinian negotiator says the goal of a two-state solution is now dead and only a one-state solution is now viable.
Bolton is hopeful the protests will not be overly violent and said lashing out will not accomplish anything for the Palestinian cause.
“People, whether they’re Palestinians or citizens of other Middle East countries, or people around the world, ask yourselves what violence would do at this point that has any possibility of changing the situation,” said Bolton.
While the Palestinians and other Trump critics fear Wednesday’s actions could damage the peace process, Bolton said there’s not much of a peace process at the moment.
“The peace process was already in very difficult shape. Honestly, if moving a building from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ends the peace process, then I have to say it was a pretty delicate snowflake to begin with,” said Bolton.
Conversely, Bolton believes the U.S. action could actually facilitate peace talks.
“Those who really want a durable, secure peace have to base it on realistic foundations. You can’t base it on illusions. And Trump’s decisions cleared away a lot of debris from the past. When people calm down, and they will in a few days, they’ll see that it’s really a step toward a possible Middle East peace, not something that’s going to interfere with it,” said Bolton.
The timing of Trump’s action is also of concern to some, given the cooperative roles that Egypt, Jordan and increasingly Saudi Arabia play in regional policy and the effort to prevent Iran from deploying nuclear weapons. All of those nations urged Trump not to recognize Jerusalem, but Bolton is not worried that relationships will fray as a result.
“They’re just as realistic in private as the president was in public. They don’t have any interest in destructive demonstrations in their country. The leaders understand Israel is a permanent fact of life in the Middle East, that it does have a capital and it’s in Jerusalem just as the president said,” said Bolton.
However, he said those same leaders will publicly condemn the move to achieve solidarity with their people while working behind the scenes to move on.
“There are always situations where politicians are playing to their domestic audiences. So this move will be criticized in public. But in private, I think the leaders will be doing everything they can to tamp down the demonstrations and hopefully do what they can to make sure they don’t turn violent,” said Bolton.