A lot of apocalyptic predictions have circulated against the backdrop of Trump’s Jerusalem proclamation. In fact, while the days immediately after the speech saw a series of mostly minor demonstrations and clashes, it is far too early for anyone to say whether the situation will escalate into a more major confrontation with Israeli authorities, who for now have managed to keep the situation under control. What needs to be understood here is the distinction between triggers of violence and underlying causes of violence. Triggers usually explain why violence erupts; underlying causes explain why the situation was ripe for such an eruption and why the ensuing violence is maintained over time.
Almost invariably, the primary issue that triggers the outbreak of violence in and around Jerusalem is the threat, real or perceived, to sacred space, and specifically the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. In contrast, geo-political developments do not generally trigger violence in Jerusalem. They do, however, render the broader circumstances more amenable to an outbreak of violence, and more amenable to that violence, once triggered, being sustained over time. It is not an accident that the Second Intifada broke out two and a half months after the collapse of the Camp David summit; the visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon and its aftermath was the trigger, but the geopolitical developments that preceded it had left the tinder very dry.
In addition, it must be recognized that when the tinder is dry enough, it cannot be predicted what will spark the fire. For example, in 2014, rising expectations of the Kerry peace talks turned to despair and anger when those talks fell apart. A few months later, when Mohamed Abu Khdeir was horrifically murdered in Jerusalem, the underlying conditions were ripe for that crime to trigger sustained and serious violence in the city.
What can be said with certainty now is that while the U.S. shift in policy on Jerusalem did not trigger major or sustained violence in the city, it undoubtedly contributes to making the circumstances on the ground more amenable to an outbreak of serious and sustained violence going forward. The trigger for such violence will likely – but not necessarily – be related to developments around the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and given the eagerness of Israel’s radical right to exploit the green light they believe they now have from Trump, including with respect to the Temple Mount, it may not be long before a provocation is provided.