The words Mr. Trump uttered about Jerusalem sounded sweet to many Jews, who belong to a faith that has revered the city as its holiest site for 3,000 years. But Jerusalem is also holy to Christians and to Muslims, and for centuries, attempts by any side to take exclusive control have brought trouble. Balancing their competing claims has been seen as the stickiest part of any peace effort.
American Jews are debating whether Mr. Trump’s decision to end decades of diplomatic ambiguity and recognize the disputed city as the Israeli capital will help or hurt Israel and the effort to make a lasting peace with the Palestinians, who also want Jerusalem for their capital. Israel, long a unifying cause among American Jews, has increasingly become a point of polarization, and Mr. Trump’s move may only deepen that divide.
There were Jewish leaders who celebrated the president’s announcement on Wednesday as a historic step that many Jews had longed for, and that might shake things up enough to restart the stalled Middle East peace process.
Nathan J. Diament, executive director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said in an interview, “This move puts pressure where it belongs, which is on the Palestinians and on Arab governments that support the Palestinians, because it sends the message that you can’t just sit still and refuse to be in negotiations and, oh, by the way, sponsor terrorism, and think that everything is just going to remain status quo.”
Mr. Diament said he was not troubled by the criticism from some Jewish leaders that by taking sides on Jerusalem, Mr. Trump had squandered America’s ability to serve as an “honest broker,” or mediator, between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“I’ve never thought the U.S. should be an honest broker,” said Mr. Diament, who represents the largest umbrella group of Orthodox Jews, who comprise about 10 percent of American Jews. “Pro-Israel Americans aren’t looking for the U.S. to be an honest broker. Pro-Israel Americans are looking to the U.S. to be a friend to our ally, Israel.”
Jewish organizations like B’nai B’rith International and the American Jewish Committee also welcomed the president’s decision. But liberal groups that are critical of the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and have a following among younger Jews, like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, protested the move and promised to rally against it.
They said it would lead to the displacement of more Palestinians from East Jerusalem and would entrench the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land, deepening grievances and making any kind of acceptable compromise harder for both sides to reach.
American Jews as a group tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and only about 24 percent of Jews who voted in the 2016 presidential election backed Mr. Trump. Soon after he took office, Mr. Trump appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his chief negotiator for the Middle East, but neither man has made public any details about the contours or status of the process.
In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said that his decision on Jerusalem “is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.” He continued, “We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis, and a great deal for the Palestinians.”
A question that divides many American Jews, though, is how to get there.
At the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, where more than 6,000 leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism were beginning to gather on Wednesday for their biennial convention, the group’s president said he was still assessing Mr. Trump’s speech.
To hear Jerusalem recognized as the capital of Israel, Rabbi Jacobs said, “is the age-old dream of the Jewish people and all of us who love and care about Israel.”
He said he was open to the possibility that the move could prove to be a “concrete step closer to a peace process.”
“Or will it be an obstacle?” he said. “Only time will tell.”