The vast majority of former US ambassadors to Israel were opposed to the move by President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying the move was deeply flawed and likely to lead to violence.
Trump’s decision, welcomed by Israel, has been condemned by leaders and foreign ministers across the world, who have said the city’s status should be determined through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. A number of Muslim leaders have warned the move may lead to violence.
Contacted by The New York Times, several of the former envoys spoke of a feeling that even if the move was the right thing to do, it represented a missed opportunity by the United States to get something in return to advance the peace process.
“There are many downsides, both diplomatically and in terms of the Middle East peace process, and no upside,” said Daniel Kurtzer, who was the ambassador in Israel from 2001 to 2005, under President George W. Bush.
“We are isolated internationally once again — except for the Israeli government, which supports this — and we are taking ourselves out of the role the president says he wants to play as a peace broker.”
Some thought the move would lead to more violence in the region. Hamas has already called for a new intifada.
“This is a risky move, which no doubt will cost lives in Israel and the region, particularly as Israeli settlers use it to justify accelerating their activity further,” said Richard Jones, who was ambassador from 2005 to 2009, also under Bush.
Several ambassadors were in favor of recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but said it should come as part of a peace process or as a way of getting concessions from Israel within that process.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and it’s appropriate that we recognize it as such,” said Daniel Shapiro who was ambassador under President Barack Obama between 2011 and 2017. “In that sense, the president’s recognition of reality is fine,” he told The New York Times.
“The missed opportunity here, though, is the failure to frame this decision in the context of achieving our broader strategic objective, which is a two-state solution. That would have required better prior consultation with Arab states, and that would have required more clarity for what the Palestinians could expect as part of their aspirations for Jerusalem,” he said.
Other ambassadors who were opposed to the decision were Martin Indyk, who served under President Bill Clinton, William Andreas Brown, who was the ambassador from 1988 to 1992, William Caldwell Harrop, who was the ambassador from 1992 to 1993, Edward Djerejian, who was the ambassador from 1993 to 1994, Thomas Pickering, who was ambassador to Israel during the Reagan administration, and James Cunningham, who was ambassador under Bush and Obama.
Two of the former ambassadors supported Trump’s declaration. Edward Walker Jr., who was ambassador from 1997 to 1999, under President Bill Clinton and Ogden R. Reid, who was the ambassador from 1959 to 1961, at the end of the Eisenhower administration.
“I think it’s about time,” said Walker. “We’ve been remiss in not recognizing realities as they are. We all know Israel has a capital, it’s called Jerusalem, and over my 35 years of service in the Middle East no one ever questioned that.”