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Editorials Globe editorial: In Jerusalem, Trump made a capital mistake

Before deciding to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and beginning the process of moving America's embassy there, President Donald Trump should have consulted the wisdom of 1987's The Art of the Deal. We mean the book by celebrity businessman Donald Trump. The classic self-help tome contains 11 helpful commandments (one more than Moses!) for business success.

If the President had remembered them (or read them; his co-author and publisher have said he had little to do with writing the book), he might have understood why his latest brain wave is a big mistake, and a very bad deal.

The Art of the Deal's second commandment is this: "Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself." Not a bad piece of advice. But President Trump's announcement on Wednesday did the exact opposite.

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His move has obvious and potentially catastrophic downsides for the Middle East, and America's standing in the region. It antagonizes Arab allies, weakens Arab moderates, fuels radicals who will celebrate it as proof that the U.S. is the enemy of Palestinians and Muslims, and breaks with the rest of the international community.

And the upside? There is none – except possibly for the President's popularity with some voters in Middle America. But in the fraught geography of the Middle East, Mr. Trump's move is a downside-maximization strategy.

Or to put it in investing terms, this isn't a case of high risks taken in search of high rewards. Instead, American foreign policy is taking a big risk, with a high chance of negative returns, and no likelihood of positive returns. This is what is known as a bad investment decision.

Jerusalem is already effectively Israel's capital. The legislature and all the major organs of government are there. And everyone knows that, if ever there is to be a peace deal, Jerusalem, or at the very least West Jerusalem, is going to have to be fully recognized as Israel's capital. (Another option would be somehow internationalizing Jerusalem – which was contemplated in the United Nations' original 1947 plans, and has been at times considered in talks since.)

But the status of this city, holy to three religions, remains unfinished business. That's because East Jerusalem, like the rest of the West Bank, is not internationally recognized as Israel. What's more, if there is to be a two-state solution, the Palestinians believe Jerusalem should be their capital, too.

That's why most of the world, Canada included, fully recognizes Israel, while leaving the official location of its capital in diplomatic limbo, until such time as the two sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can reach a negotiated settlement.

Unfortunately, the President's move is not about bringing those two sides closer to a settlement. He's not breaking a logjam. No, he's throwing lighter fluid and matches onto it, and hoping for the best.

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The Art of the Deal's third commandment is: "Maximize your options." But on Wednesday, Mr. Trump minimized America's foreign policy options and room for manoeuvre, while handing the initiative to the most radical, anti-peace, anti-American forces in the region.

Commandment Four is: "Know your market." Who exactly is the market for this announcement?It's appeals to almost no one in the Arab or Muslim world. And even if the goal is advancing the interests of Israel, it doesn't do that. On the contrary, it undermines Israel's best interests, as many Israelis appreciate.

A number of Arab states, which used to focus reflexively and obsessively on the Arab-Israeli conflict, have been trying to quietly move on. They would rather worry about other things. But Mr. Trump has forced the spotlight back onto the unfinished business of Israel and the Palestinians. That makes it harder for Arab governments to leave the conflict on a backburner, or take it entirely off the stove.

It also further undermines already weakened Palestinian moderates – and in the long run, they are the one group indispensable for Israeli security. Without them, peace is impossible.

Which brings us Donald Trump's first commandment in Art of the Deal: "Think big."

His Jerusalem announcement certainly made for big headlines. But this is, sadly, yet another example of a President whose foreign policy misses the big picture. The Jerusalem decision is a petty and foolish step, made solely to live up to a narrow election promise.

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It's the latest case of a President who goes on endlessly about making America great, but never fails to think small.

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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