The day after President Donald Trump announced the United States had recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Susan Zycherman was grocery shopping in Rockville. She and her husband had watched news reports about the announcement and then tried to figure out what it all meant.
“My instinct was to say, ‘Yay,’” she said, “and then we had to talk about the possible political ramifications.”
The Silver Spring resident isn’t sure if Trump is “totally serious” about following up on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Maybe he’s using the promise as a bargaining chip to get Israelis to the peace table with the Palestinians, she said.
Across Washington — and around the world — people applauded, denounced and argued about an announcement with no immediate practical implications, but huge symbolic consequences.
Much of the Washington-area Jewish community sees Trump’s Jerusalem announcement as a recognition of reality and his promise to move the American embassy as a fulfillment of long-standing American law. But others say the president has jeopardized the U.S. role as Middle East peacemaker and unnecessarily isolated America in the world community.
During the lunch hour at Oh Mama Grill in Rockville on Dec. 7, customer Malki David was considering whether Trump’s announcement would hurt chances for Israel-Palestinian negotiations.
“What negotiations? We’ve had negotiations for years and years and years. They just want to kill,” said David, a Rockville resident who hails from Tel Aviv, referring to the Palestinians. “For me, Jerusalem always was the capital. No question about it. This should have been done from day one.”
David said he is a Trump supporter. His wife, Sabrina, sitting at the table with him, is not. She said Trump was right in recognizing Jerusalem, but she worried about the reaction of Arab states.
“I think that it’s not going to be well-received by the Arabs, because they perceive America as not having concern for them,” she said.
At Max’s Café and Catering in Wheaton, Silver Spring resident Joel Feldman said Trump’s change in U.S. foreign policy was necessary.
“The United States, to be a true friend of Israel, needed to do this,” he said. “I give this administration credit for sticking to their guns and doing it. I know that it’s shocking to the European Union and the Arab world, but they’ll come around. Yes, there will be violence in the short term, but there always is.”
“It’s the recognition of something that is overdue and is reality,” Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac said by phone. “American foreign policy shouldn’t be held hostage to threats of violence. And it may help convey to Palestinians that they won’t be able to achieve their goals through violence. And so this may be a constructive move that will help the peace process.”
Trump’s predecessors asserted that the final status of Jerusalem would be decided in negotiations. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama each signed waivers to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for national security reasons.
Trump said U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would not affect the city’s ultimate status in peace talks. He did not provide a timetable for moving the embassy.
Howard Sumka, a former director of U.S. Agency for International Development from Silver Spring, said Trump’s announcement makes a bad situation worse.
“I think this is a very destructive thing to do in a period where there’s no discussion going on between Israelis and Palestinians and no basis for any kind of dialogue,” he said.
On Dec. 8, 30 members of the group IfNotNow marched from the Washington office of Jewish Federations of North America to the White House, holding signs reading “Jerusalem 4 All” and “Jerusalem is not a game.” The protest came in response both to Trump’s announcement and the support it received from many mainstream Jewish organizations.
“Jerusalem is not a united city, it’s a divided city, and the occupation has been leaving scars for years in its neighborhoods,” said IfNotNow member Ethan Miller.
Member Isaac Flegel-Mishlove agreed.
“Our generation believes in peace and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis, and this move to Jerusalem of the embassy is not the way to get that done.”