According to CNN, Trump has just recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital:

President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Wednesday and announced plans to relocate the US Embassy there, a move expected to inflame tensions in the region and unsettle the prospects for peace.

Wikipedia informs us that Jerusalem's status is quite unclear:

There is significant disagreement in the international community on the legal and diplomatic status of Jerusalem. Legal scholars disagree on how to resolve the dispute under international law. Many United Nations (UN) member states formally adhere to the United Nations proposal that Jerusalem should have an international status.

Also, this seems to be opposing the legal position of the vast majority of states:

The majority of UN member states and most international organisations do not recognise Israel's ownership of East Jerusalem which occurred after the 1967 Six-Day War, nor its 1980 Jerusalem Law proclamation, which declared a "complete and united" Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Another CNN article explains about possible issues related to this decision:

The final status of Jerusalem has always been one of the most difficult and sensitive questions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the United States declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it would be seen as prejudging that question, deciding an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations and breaking with the international consensus on the holy city.

Question: What are the benefits for the US in declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital??


8 Answers 8


Rallying his base and making good on a campaign promise. Evangelical Christians in the US voice strong political support for Israel and this group overwhelmingly voted for Trump and was pivotal for his victory. This was a hard won constituency as Ted Cruz fashioned himself as champion of the Evangelicals during primaries and support was split between Cruz, Rubio, and Trump, and Trump has many moral foibles that could serve to put off Evangelicals. Trump needed to do something to keep them in his court and this is a low-hanging fruit as the only fallout is anger from foreign leaders, something Trump has shown he doesn't care much about (Paris Accord, German Trade, too many examples to list).

This isn't just an Evangelical issue, the majority of republicans sympathize with Israel on the Israel/Palestine conflict, but this is a much more pertinent issue to Evangelicals because of the religious ramifications than it is to the broader republican base.

The US gains nothing from this.

It is true that Trump gains some goodwill from Israel as a result from this. What I mean is this action in and of itself doesn't translate into any tangible benefit for the U.S. as a country.


The reason why people want the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is to counter the stream of international organizations that have been recognizing Palestine as a country. As such, it is a show of support for Israel and against those who believe that Israel is illegitimate.

Some believe that the problem is that the Palestinians don't feel a need to go to the negotiating table to achieve their goals. Instead, they are pursuing recognition from international bodies in lieu of negotiating with Israel. To the extent that they receive that support, they don't need to negotiate with Israel. They can get support elsewhere.

Some believe that the way to push the Palestinians back to the negotiating table is to take a symbolic action that they will view negatively but which will have little if any practical effect. Recognizing the city that Israel uses as their capital as the official capital is that kind of symbolic action. It won't change Israel--they already view Jerusalem as their capital. It won't really change things for Palestine. While they contest Israel's ownership of Jerusalem, they aren't in possession of it now.

Again, the hope is that this will bring them back to the negotiating table. If not, the same people that favor this action have other provocations that they propose. Note that they understand and expected the Palestinian reaction of condemnation. Their perspective is that the Palestinians are ignoring the peace process. Until the Palestinians stop ignoring Israeli negotiators, the peace process isn't going anywhere. People of this belief feel that a negative reaction is better than no reaction.

The basic idea is that if the Palestinians feel that they have something to lose by waiting, they will be more interested in negotiating now.

This is a controversial position. Here's two examples of opinions on this:

I don't want to take a position on this. There is room here for reasonable people to disagree. I would point out though that those who view decades of precedent as sacrosanct need to explain:

  1. Why it wasn't sacrosanct when Barack Obama failed to veto a United Nations condemnation of Israel, also reversing decades of bipartisan policy.
  2. What's so great about the decades of bipartisan policy that have failed to produce any kind of improvement in the Middle East in terms of relations between Israel and other countries.

If it was all right for Obama to upend policy at the end of his term, when he wouldn't have to deal with the repercussions, then it should be all right for Trump to upend policy at the beginning of his term. This may be the wrong thing to do. That's certainly possible. It also may be the right thing to do. We won't know until we see the long term results.

  • 50
    You're placing the blame for a breakdown in negotiations squarely on the Palestinian side. During the previous peace talks Abbas clearly stated he would return to the table when Israel stopped building settlements on occupied territory, which it has not.
    – Gramatik
    Dec 7, 2017 at 14:59
  • 11
    This article seems to fairly lay out the motivations of the people who made the decision without arguing their correctness. Dec 9, 2017 at 1:36
  • 2
    Where are the people in the US that believe that the Israelians are an invading force and the country should instead be decolonized (like many countries were after the second world war) and given back to the palestine?
    – paul23
    Dec 11, 2017 at 13:50
  • 10
    Your first paragraph implicitly assumes that everyone who recognizes, or wishes to recognize, Palestine as a country also does not believe Israel is legitimate. This is false, as the “two-state solution” exists as a position people favor that both recognizes Palestine and sees Israel as legitimate.
    – KRyan
    Dec 11, 2017 at 16:49
  • 2
    @paul23 When I lived in DC (about two years ago), I saw bus ads and protester signs saying exactly that all the time. In fact, just about the only protesters more reliably found in front of the White House were the anti-nuclear-weapons folks; my wife’s commute took her past the White House four days a week for a while. It’s hard to imagine that they’ve gone away with the election of a more pro-Israel president.
    – KRyan
    Dec 11, 2017 at 16:55

At least prior to the previous U.S. administration, Israel has been a long-time ally of the United States and each country had usually supported the other. Having technologically and economically advanced democratic allies is generally seen as a good thing for the U.S., especially in the Middle East.

Jerusalem has been the official capital of the State of Israel since the end of the Arab-Israeli War in 1949, almost 70 years ago. Israel's President, Prime Minister, Parliament, Supreme Court, etc. are all located in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. There are several motivations behind foreign powers refusing to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, but the fact of the matter is that it de facto is the capital of Israel, whether other countries want it to be so or not and this has been the case for almost an entire lifetime.

Ending an official policy of refusing to recognize an ally's official capital is seen as a token of goodwill. So, the answer to why this is seen as being good for the United States comes down to that it improves relations with a key economic, political, and military ally in the region.

This situation is very similar to the situation with U.S. policy regarding Taiwan. Like with Israel, the U.S. and Taiwan have generally had good and mutually-beneficial relations for decades, but the U.S. (like almost every other country on Earth) has historically refused to officially recognize Taiwan's independence in order to keep from making China (PRC) mad. Also like with Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, Taiwan's independence has been the de facto situation on the ground of decades, but was not internationally recognized for purely political reasons.

Similarly to what is happening with Israel and Jerusalem now, suggestions were were happening for a while earlier this year that the U.S. might stop recognizing the One China Principle and give formal recognition to the independence of Taiwan. However, at least for now, the U.S. continues to abide by One China, partially due to Taiwan's shared desire not to incur too much anger from the PRC.

  • 2
    The last paragraph somewhat contradicts the earlier point. If we should recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital because they say it is, should we not recognize Taiwan's independence because they say they are?
    – user1530
    Dec 7, 2017 at 2:07
  • 7
    @blip It's not recognizing Jerusalem because as Israel's capital because they say it is; it's recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital because a US ally [in this case, Israel] says it is. So too regarding Taiwan the US has adopted the position of the US's ally, China. The goal here (according to this answer) is to take the position of the country you care more about not angering and being friendly to.
    – Double AA
    Dec 7, 2017 at 3:52
  • 2
    @DoubleAA we've been allies with Taiwan and Mainland China. Arguably, the US has had a longer friendly relation with Taiwan than the rest of China.
    – user1530
    Dec 7, 2017 at 4:05
  • 3
    @blip history aside, right now the us cares more about maintaining it's relationship with China, probably mostly for economic reasons
    – Double AA
    Dec 7, 2017 at 4:10
  • 5
    @blip Maybe I worded it poorly, but the comparison in the last paragraph was between starting to recognize Jerusalem and starting to recognize Taiwan's independence, which was also openly discussed for a while earlier this year. However, they ended up deciding not to go forward with the latter for now... partially because Taiwan themselves didn't want to stir up trouble with the PRC.
    – reirab
    Dec 7, 2017 at 4:27

It's important to remember that there was a lot of symbolism here. Israel has always considered Jerusalem its capital (something codified in 1980). The international community, however, is divided on that subject, partially because the Palestinian Authority views East Jerusalem as their capital as well:

The Palestinian National Authority views East Jerusalem as occupied territory according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. The Palestinian Authority claims all of East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, as the capital of the State of Palestine, and claims that West Jerusalem is also subject to permanent status negotiations. However, it has stated that it would be willing to consider alternative solutions, such as making Jerusalem an open city. The official position of the PNA is that Jerusalem should be an open city, with no physical partition and that Palestine would guarantee freedom of worship, access and the protection of sites of religious significance.

The quintessential symbol of that division is the Dome of the Rock. It's a holy Muslim site (where Muslims believe Mohammad, their holy prophet, ascended to Heaven). But it's built atop what is known as the Temple Mount, where the Jewish temple once stood (this is above where the Wailing Wall, a holy Jewish site, is located). Solving that problem alone is fairly thorny, let alone what to do about the whole city.

The reason for the Jerusalem move is the Jerusalem Embassy Act:

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is a public law of the United States passed by the 104th Congress on October 23, 1995. It was passed for the purposes of initiating and funding the relocation of the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no later than May 31, 1999, and attempted to withhold 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the State Department specifically for "Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad" as allocated in fiscal year 1999 until the United States Embassy in Jerusalem had officially opened. The act also called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. Israel's declared capital is Jerusalem, but this is not internationally recognized, pending final status talks in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

This has been a popular campaign point, with Clinton, Bush (43), and Obama all making speeches in support of it, and then using executive waivers to avoid doing so. Why? Most likely because

  1. it would needlessly anger the Palestinians (who have known terrorist organizations in their midst),
  2. it was likely seen as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations,
  3. it became status quo by the time Bill Clinton left office (political inertia).

So why is Trump doing it now?

  1. Trump, for better or worse, isn't as concerned with his image as his predecessors. He's unlikely to suffer any immediate political harm from doing it. Almost all of the people viewing this dimly didn't have a good view of him before he did this.
  2. It offers another distraction from domestic woes. Trump is a master at getting the press to change the subject.
  3. It's unlikely to change anything in peace negotiations. The PLO does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas' charter declares they will destroy Israel. Israel was never going to give up Jerusalem.
  4. Trump likes to play hardball in negotiations. He takes an untenable position at first, and then comes back with something more reasonable. He's set a table to try and muscle the Palestinian Authority. From earlier this year:

    "His style of diplomacy is very different from his recent predecessors," former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told CNN International's Hala Gorani Thursday. "He is much more in your face. I suppose the diplomacy of the rest of us is kind of going to have to get used to that."

  • 15
    @MoziburUllah No. While there was an exchange of "recognition letters" in 1993, this good faith effort was undermined by proceeding statements from Yasser Arafat, to include: "We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilt to redeem our land! ~ 1996/01/30 " Dec 8, 2017 at 15:58
  • 12
    @MoziburUllah There's a key difference here. The PA recognizes that Israel exists. It does not recognize Israel's right to exist.
    – Machavity
    Dec 8, 2017 at 17:17
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    @joelFan: Here is a posting by Ayelat Shaked, justice minister in Netanyahu's cabinet in 2014: " in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure... Dec 8, 2017 at 18:59
  • 6
    @joelFan:...actors in the war are those who incite in mosques, who write the murderous curricula for schools, who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there". Dec 8, 2017 at 19:00
  • 9
    @JoelFan: As Israel is the stronger party in the on-going dispute it makes sense that they are less likely to make such comments, they have a lot less to fear. Dec 8, 2017 at 19:25

Probably the same as the benefit of supporting moving of Germany's capital to Berlin or the benefit of changing the English name of the China's capital to Beijing from Peking. In all of those cases, US recognizes that sovereign nations have the right to name their own capitals.

There was, for a while, a belief that the stateless territory on the West Bank of Jordan river (currently under Israel's partial control aka "occupation") may agree to terms which would make it a state and that Israel would be willing to give up part of its territory in exchange for concessions from that new state. But since no progress has emerged in this process (sometimes known as a "peace process"), the most practical solution is to now treat the status quo as de facto permanent.

  • 9
    How, exactly, is this the "most practical solution"? This doesn't answer the question as to what the US gains from this.
    – user1530
    Dec 9, 2017 at 3:30
  • 3
    how things "are" in geopolitical terms is open to vastly different points of view. And deciding that no progress has been made, therefore we'll just pick one side to support is obviously arbitrary, at best.
    – user1530
    Dec 10, 2017 at 17:35
  • 3
    @blip, it's not a support of one side over the other though. It's recognition of how things are in the most honest way possible. The administration didn't abandon long-term goals of creating a mutually-acceptable solution. It simply recognized the status quo as de facto permanent. Which does not mean that things can't be recognized to be different if they change. Opinions may differ. Facts are facts. Treating the situation based on facts, rather than on opinions on how facts should change, is also more practical.
    – grovkin
    Dec 10, 2017 at 21:43
  • 4
    It's your opinion that this is a 'fact' and is the 'most honest way of looking at it'. It's not an incorrect opinion, but it's just an opinion, and by no means universal or even a majority opinion. And that's the issue. There is no absolute truth in this situation. Never has been. There may never be.
    – user1530
    Dec 10, 2017 at 22:48
  • 3
    I'm not dismissing your opinion. I'm saying it's just an opinion. One shared by some in the US Federal Government. Not one necessarily shared by most of the rest of the planet. In fact, we're the only nation that even thinks we should have an embassy there: cnn.com/2017/12/05/middleeast/trump-jerusalem-explainer-intl/… Again...not dismissing your opinion. But it is very much a minority opinion. Not universal fact.
    – user1530
    Dec 10, 2017 at 23:58

The benefit of Trump's strategy is that it creates an opportunity to move the region closer to peace between the Palestinians and Israel.

More stability means lower US expenditure in the region.

By "giving" the Israelis Jerusalem, Trump has bought leverage.

Jerusalem is already occupied by Israel, so Trump has offered little more than words and a promise of an embassy move. Despite this, the Israelis are positively overjoyed at the news. Classic Trump.

There will be one of two outcomes:

1. Violence from the Palestinians

This will buy Trump leverage with the Palestinians ("come on guys, look at the violent actions you have been conducting...").

2. Restraint from the Palestinians

This will buy even more leverage with the Israelis ("look at how restrained/reasonable the Palestinians have been").

So Trump now needs to simply wait a short time, and then bring the two parties to the table.

Trump now has leverage with the most powerful party (the Israelis) to move them towards a solution - likely a two-state solution.

  • 8
    The only problem with that is that agreeing to a two-state solution without (part of) Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital is currently impossible to accept for the Palestinian leaders. It would be political (or even actual) suicide and there wouldn't be sufficient support to maintain such a solution.
    – Roland
    Dec 7, 2017 at 11:51
  • 9
    I cannot understand how anyone could actually believe the US would be accepted as a partner in talks by the Palestinian part. They lost all credibility of even being interested in a peaceful solution. Dec 10, 2017 at 0:07
  • 2
    @Ben You dismiss the fact that Israel never intended to make any offer. They think building settlements in the West Bank is legitimate. They always claimed Jerusalem as their "undivided eternal capital". Netanyahu has no incentive whatsoever for offering anything. He will rather use upcoming violence as an excuse for further steps against Palestinians. Dec 11, 2017 at 14:49
  • 1
    Israel's settlers have the upper hand. They are winning the long war. Why negotiate when you're winning? The answer seems naïve in the assumption that Trump can easily manipulate such a complex problem in his favour.
    – user8398
    Dec 12, 2017 at 14:36
  • 2
    The real way would be to pressure Israel either treat Palestine as a state or palestenians as citizens(with voting etc rights). Dec 13, 2017 at 4:31

There's nothing to gain for the US. It will likely cause more strife in the middle east (Trump seems to want more strife in general - Part of Bannon's plan to cause chaos) It will cause the right wing in Israel to like Trump more just as it causes the right wing in the US to like Trump more. Another Zero gain, as Israel is our lapdog in the middle east and not the other way around - they wouldn't exist in current configuration, if not for our votes in the UN.

There are no benefits for the US. It could be argued, if you're the type who likes us involved in everything middle east, that an Israeli state is a good thing - since it allows us to project power in the middle east, but we already have that without this move.

This does nothing but pump up Trump's supporters. That's all it's designed to do. He has to create reasons to support him, since Republican policies in general could attract no votes - other than from Billionaires and corporations. So they have to come up with garbage like this, guns, babies - whatever. Whatever separates their supporters from their jobs/money.

  • One objection: I don't think Israel's existence depends on "votes in the UN"... they have nuclear weapons!
    – user15103
    Dec 8, 2017 at 4:44
  • 15
    This seems like a rant, not an objective answer.
    – Thern
    Dec 8, 2017 at 9:07
  • @Nebr While It sounds like a rant it's the more assertive answer to far.
    – jean
    Dec 8, 2017 at 17:11
  • 5
    @jean Being a rant doesn't automatically mean that any part of the answer is wrong, but it is not the type of answer that seems suitable for a Q&A site like this. And much, like "Trump seems to want more strife in general - Part of Bannon's plan to cause chaos" is pure speculation. It may be correct - or utterly wrong.
    – Thern
    Dec 8, 2017 at 19:22
  • 1
    @jean The history of Israel's nukes is irrelevant to my point, which is admittedly a nitpick. It's just that once you have nuclear weapons, your existence is pretty well assured. So now that they've got them, the fact that almost the entire UN dumps on them isn't going to persuade the Israelis to pack up and quit.
    – user15103
    Dec 9, 2017 at 23:09

On the whole, Democrats are much more likely to see Palestinian grievances as at least partly justified, while Republicans are more likely to believe that Israel has been the victim of a Palestinian campaign of intimidation, and therefore to support Israel.


Republicans, who are currently in charge, are simply acting on what they believe. As they see it, Israel has been the victim of a Palestinian campaign of intimidation over the years. Again, as they see it, the right response to such a campaign is to stand up to it. Moving the embassy is a manifestation of that.

Also playing into the decision is a belief on the Republican side that a strong attitude will get more respect, especially from the Arab world, than a weak one. That belief is most strongly articulated here:


It's worth noting that whether or not these beliefs are correct, while certainly relevant for history, is not relevant to the decision itself. In other words, if a person believes something to be true, they will act on it, regardless of whether their belief is correct or not.

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