The Complexities Surrounding Israel's Capital

Dec 3, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Trump may announce this week that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Also on the table, the eventual relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, where it's been for over 50 years, to Jerusalem. Those would be enormously controversial moves with profound implications should they happen. To talk about why, we have Aaron David Miller. He's the director of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center. He's also a former State Department Middle East negotiator. Thanks for coming in.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Always a pleasure, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, so the city's fate is profoundly intertwined with the peace process. What's your view on this announcement, should President Trump make it?

MILLER: You know, worked for half a dozen secretaries of state. My advice to all of them was always the same when it comes to Jerusalem. Don't mess around with it. Don't fool around with it. It's a tinderbox waiting for a match. And the reality is, we've skirted the issue these many years. The argument for an Israeli embassy - a U.S. embassy in west Jerusalem is compelling, no question about it. The issue is timing and the implications of such a move. And the president on Wednesday presumably is going to announce that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem or west Jerusalem - a tricky issue in itself - as capital of the state of Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if he does that, what do you think the ramifications will be?

MILLER: I mean, it's hard to say with respect to violence. It's impossible to predict. The reality, though, is it...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palestinians are warning against the move, saying that there will be a violence - Hamas in particular - and that it will be the end of the peace process.

MILLER: Well, if Hamas and the Islamic jihadis were looking for an issue to exploit, this would clearly be it. And violence, essentially, has been the story many times - 1990, 1996, 2000, most recently over metal detectors on Haram Sharif - Temple Mount. My take on this is quite simple. There is simply no compelling U.S. interest to deal with Jerusalem at a time when Israelis and Palestinians have zero trust and confidence in one another, at a time when the president of the United States is pursuing his ultimate deal and when he wants to involve key Arab states, Jordan and, particularly, Saudi Arabia, to facilitate and help Israelis and Palestinians in a negotiation. I don't see the logic. I don't see the timing. I think it's driven largely by the fact that the president of the United States is tired of certifying. He's got campaign commitments he's made. And frankly, he also is in a position - I suspect psychologically - where he can do this, and he's going to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there a chance that this may be part of a wider plan? We have the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been tasked by Trump to deal with this issue. And there are reports in Bloomberg that he may have cut a deal with Arab powers in the region, namely Saudi Arabia, to fund a Palestinian state. Could this be part of a bigger picture?

MILLER: I mean, is it possible there's a compelling coherent strategy that's going to be revealed sometime early next year? Perhaps. It's just the issues that separate the parties, Jerusalem border security, refugees, recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jews, end of conflict in claims. The gaps on those issues are huge. And why an administration, even if it had such a compelling plan, would want to inject Jerusalem into the mix right now is difficult for me to understand. I met Mr. Kushner several months ago, and I told him, I wish my father-in-law had as much confidence in me as his father-in-law appears to have in him because he's given him literally mission impossible, if not mission improbable. And at the same time, he is the repository. President's son-in-law is the repository of an issue that is usually, normally accorded to the secretary of state. And that in itself, in many respects, becomes problematic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, thank you so much.

MILLER: Thank you so much, too.

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