Chapter by Lara Friedman (April 2020), published in a collection of analyses curated by SETA entitled “Trump’s Jerusalem Move: Making Sense of U.S. Policy on the Israeli Palestinian Conflict.”
From the start of the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States, through this writing (well into the third year of the Trump presidency), observers and analysts of Israeli-Palestinian issues have over and over made the same basic error with respect to trying to understand the intentions of the Trump Administration and to predict its policies and its actions: they have refused to take President Trump and his surrogates at their word – including on Jerusalem.
At the start of Trump’s campaign to become president, then-candidate Trump entrusted his Israel-Palestine policy to a core group of trusted advisors – his real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt; his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner – all of whom had well-established personal political inclinations in this policy arena1 . And notwithstanding many people’s expectation that, if elected, Trump would replace the trio with experienced foreign policy professionals, after winning the election Trump handed them the reins of his Israel-Palestine policy.
While past Administrations included officials who carried with them various ideological preferences on Israel-Palestine, such officials were almost uniformly foreign policy professionals who demonstrably adjusted their assumptions and their goals based on realities of actually having to carry out a real foreign policy and political considerations, foreign or domestic, that emerged. In contrast, it was clear from the start that the men leading Trump’s Israel-Palestine policy were not foreign policy professionals; they were, and remain today, ideologues.2 In this context, it should have been expected that once in office, they would act energetically to implement the policies and promises articulated during the Trump campaign – and where these policies and promises hit obstacles, it should have been understood the result might be an alteration in tactics or timing, but not an alteration in objectives.
This is precisely what has happened since Trump took office, including on Jerusalem.