Notes on the US shift on Jerusalem 

Brian M Downing 

The signs have been there for over a year. President-elect Trump promised to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Trump backtracked but recently announced recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and also the intention to move the US embassy there. Benefits to American security are not made clear. Reverberations of the decision are sounding throughout the region and will continue to do so for quite some time.


The Palestinian Authority faces a dilemma. If it does too little, its credibility in the occupied territories will suffer. Too much, it risks being dismantled by Israeli troops. The Palestinian leadership has thus far called for “days of rage” which are to last three days. This seems intended to call for something well short of a third Intifada.

Palestinian ire will almost certainly lead to protests lasting more than three days and to acts of violence as well. Stabbings, vehicle rammings, rockets from Gaza, and attacks on settlers will take place. A more organized response is unlikely as it’s very difficult to bring weapons in and most underground organizations are riddled with informers.

Sunni powers

The Sunni powers are thus far quiet. Though “vigorous protests” will be issued, most princes are aligned with Israel against Iran, and will acquiesce to the move. Sectarian hatred takes precedence over Palestinian independence. In all likelihood, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East pointman, Jared Kushner, apprised the Arab princes of the impending move and got their approval.

Arab publics will not be so accepting. They already see their rulers as pampered elites who gather in vast national wealth and offer neither opportunities nor rights. Now the rulers are collaborating with Israel and the United States against the Palestinians. Widespread protests may get out of hand. Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are especially vulnerable. Perhaps this is well understood in the Trump and Netanyahu governments.


Arab instability will benefit Iran which has presented itself as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, especially as the Sunni powers moved closer to Israel. Iranian media and intelligence officers will amplify their support and underscore the duplicitous acquiescence of Sunni powers.

The Muslim Brotherhood has also supported the Palestinians, probably with more sincerity than Iran. It has extensive networks and large memberships in most Arab countries. The movement was harshly repressed in Egypt and parts of it resorted to terrorism. Some joined al Qaeda and ISIL in the Sinai Peninsula, where they’ve been learning the trade.

Qatar has tried to steer a neutral course in the Saudi-Iranian conflict but has run into a Sunni boycott. Its popular broadcast network, Al Jazeera, has become far more politicized since then and is steadily decrying the US move and the Sunnis’ inaction. Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar will try to bring back the Arab Awakening. The US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have done their parts.


Almost all Israelis have considered Jerusalem their capital for decades. That’s where the Knesset, prime minister, and many government branches go about business. Furthermore, the city has had immense emotional significance to the Jewish people for centuries, whether in the Middler East or in the Diaspora. They will welcome the move but many will have concerns.

The Israeli Right – the Likud, coalition partners, and ultra-religious supporters – are consolidating their power in public life. Combined with demographic trends favoring the Right, the country is lurching into a religious-nationalist future that breaks with the country’s secular and tolerant foundations.

Copyright 2017 Brian M Downing

Brian M Downing is a national security analyst who has written for outlets across the political spectrum. He studied at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, and did post-graduate work at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs. Thanks to Susan Ganosellis.