Utah expert calls Trump move on Israel 'a missed opportunity'

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sees the U.S. officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital as a lost opportunity because it's not tied to a peace process.

Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor, sees it as an "intra-American" decision rather than an "inter-American" action in conjunction with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

"More than anything else, it reflects a Trump administration go-it-alone decision that I think is a missed opportunity in the larger context," Guiora said.

President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, making good on a promise he made during the election campaign. He instructed the State Department to develop a plan to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious that Jerusalem is Israel's capital," he said.

Trump said problems can't be solved by making the "same failed assumptions" and repeating the same failed strategies. After two decades of waivers to keep the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, "we're no closer to a lasting peace agreement," he said.

The president said his decision would help further peace in the region.

Guiora said the announcement would be met with some rioting and tension in the Middle East.

Saying it expects unrest and possibly violence in the next few days, the BYU Jerusalem Center restricted travel by students and others living at the center to East Jerusalem and the Old City starting Thursday.

"How long the restrictions will be in place and whether they will be extended to other parts of Jerusalem are decisions that will be made as the extent of the reaction to President Trump's announcement is observed over the next several days," according to the center's website.

Utah's two senators applauded Trump's decision.

"We continue to hope for peace and longtime stability between Israelis and Palestinians, but the U.S. can no longer wait to do the right thing in recognizing the nation’s rightful capital," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he has long supported recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. He said Trump's decision "takes into careful consideration" the needs of America’s allies in the region and around the world.

"The president’s action, which reaffirms U.S. legislation that has been on the books since 1995, sends a clear signal that we are prepared to defend the interests of the United States and its allies," he said.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said as someone who has lived and done business in Israel, "I can say unequivocally that today’s long-overdue announcement is an important step in solidifying the United States’ relationship with our most important friend and ally in the Middle East.”

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for over 3,000 years and she's "proud that the United States stands by, appreciates and recognizes the sovereignty of our good friend and ally, Israel."


Many countries around the world criticized Trump's action, including U.S. allies Great Britain and France.

American presidential candidates over past decades have felt the need to promise recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, but Trump is the first to follow through, said Guiora, who splits his time between Utah and Israel.

The Trump administration's move is "largely symbolic," he said, adding that moving the embassy — when and if it happens — would have more profound significance.

"The decision to recognize the capital doesn't really do wonders for any kind of a peace process," Guiroa said.

It would be an interesting diplomatic move "if it were far more nuanced, far more sophisticated" and tied into peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.

If, for instance, as part of a peace agreement, the president recognized west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and east Jerusalem as the new capital of Palestine, "that would have made sense," Guiora said.

"It's a stand-alone announcement by the president divorced, frankly, of any positive interaction between the sides," he said.

Guiora said the Trump administration was "clumsy" and "doesn't get an A" for how it handled the decision diplomatically. He said it reflects internal conflicts in which one camp defeated the other.

The geopolitical ramifications are limited, other than maybe scoring some political points for Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, noting both are under investigation in their countries.

Guiora said it's a distraction from the Russian investigation for Trump and from bribery allegations for Netanyahu.

"I don't see any gain here from an American perspective," he said.


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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.


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