Wendy Pearlman (L) and Eugene Kontorovich (R).

By Ellen Braunstein

When President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced plans to relocate the U.S. embassy there, he risked a huge backlash from around the world.  Two experts at Northwestern University, who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, were divided in their assessment of Trump’s decision. Here’s what they had to say:

Wendy Pearlman, associate professor of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. Author of the book: “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria” (Harper Collins, 2017)

“Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol will yield zero benefits and could produce substantial harms—both in terms of immediate risk of violence and the long term erosion of the United States’ credibility in the Middle East and in the world.

“For nearly a century, actions that appear to undermine Muslim and Arab claims to a share of Jerusalem and its holy sites have sparked violence, including life-claiming confrontations in 1929, 1996, 2000 and as recent as June 2017.

“Jerusalem is a contested city. It’s claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians and the international consensus has long been that the status of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations. Its status should be decided in a way that’s mutually agreed upon in the context of a peace agreement and resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Should Trump carry through with his decision, it will be in direct contradiction with his promise to lead serious peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, showing once again how the U.S. is not an honest broker in this conflict.

“In many parts of the Arab world, this announcement would end up with Palestinian protests and Israeli troops probably firing back. Some kids would lose their lives; families would be mourning their young ones. As lamentable and horrible as that is, it was extremely predictable from the first moment that Trump made this announcement.

“The Jerusalem declaration might have had one reaction under more stable times in the Middle East, but these are such unstable times. It’s one of many factors and one of many crises that are brewing at the moment.

“The condemnation of some parties, the urging to reconsider from other countries, from the UN, heads of state from Germany, France, Britain, the Pope. World leaders were urging Trump not to do this. Once he did it, they expressed their disfavor so I do not predict they will follow suit. I predict this move will isolate the U.S. internationally.”

Eugene Kontorovich, professor of law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. His op-ed “Russia Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital. Why Can’t the U.S.” was published in the Wall Street Journal in May 2017.

“This is a historic decision that will be remembered alongside the Balfour Declaration of 100 years ago. It rectifies a longstanding injustice, in which Israel’s capital was not even recognized as part of the country. It also breaks the dysfunctional international consensus that any Jewish presence in the Old City of Jerusalem is illegal and illegitimate. It makes U.N. Security Council Resolution 2344 a dead letter and is the first international recognition of Israeli sovereignty across the Green Line. It is a complete game-changer and a bold move that will likely be followed by other countries.

“What the president did is end the kind of pariah state or second class country treatment that Israel has thus far gotten. Up until now, basically no country has recognized Jerusalem as the capitol. That is the kind of aberrational, absurd treatment that goes too far in the face of reality.

“I predict that the world will react with some harsh words and relatively little violence. The region has much bigger problems.

“Trump’s action here I believe is going to puncture the entire fallacy of much of the Middle East peace process which is only pushing on Israel to achieve results and not applying enough pressure on the Palestinians. I think it’s going to show the Palestinians that they can’t just expect that they say no to a series of generous peace offers and expect the next offer to be better.”


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