Trump's Reality Therapy on Jerusalem

President Donald Trump broke free of the self-absorbed fantasies of the "international community." He spoke truth to it with his acknowledgment that it "was time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel" and adopt a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Jerusalem was established as the Jewish capital by King David around 1010 B.C., and his son Solomon built the Temple in 964 B.C.  Jerusalem was captured a number of times by invading armies from the Romans to the Crusaders and Arabs. However, it has for three thousand years always been a holy site for Jews, and the city is cited about 350 times in the Bible.

As a result of the 1948-49 war caused by the Arab military invasion of the newly created State of Israel, the Arab Legion captured the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and Jerusalem, for the first time, was divided between 1948 and 1967 by the so called Green Line of barbed wire and sandbags. Israelis were not allowed by Jordan, the occupying power, to pray at the Western Wall, to attend the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, or to live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

The Arab Legion in the process of destroying the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue, Jerusalem, 25 May 1948

During the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli forces captured east Jerusalem which has remained under Israeli control ever since. On July 27, 1967 Israeli law and jurisdiction was extended to east Jerusalem: on July 30, 1980 Israeli law declared that "Jerusalem complete and unified is the capital of Israel." 

For a variety of reasons, primarily Palestinian pressure, most countries did not legally recognize this declaration, or the reality on which it is based. At best, Jerusalem was identified as the seat of Israel government, while foreign embassies, including that of the U.S., are in Tel Aviv. Even in the November 29, 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181 that proposed partition of the disputed area, Jerusalem was viewed as a city to be accorded a special international status and placed under the administrative authority of the UN. 

Trump made clear that he was not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested issues. Those questions are up to the parties involved.

Trump argues that his decision on Jerusalem is combined with determination to broker a peace deal between the parties and reach a two-state solution. He was not preempting future discussion of final status. Not coincidentally, Jared Kushner has met three times with Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, with whom he has a close relationship, and also with Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Trump was simply echoing the Congressional law of 1995 that recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and asserted that the U.S. Embassy should be established there no later than May 31, 1999. It provided that the President has to sign a national security waiver every 6 months to keep the Embassy in Tel Aviv. 

Trump did sign a six-month waiver, but he kept his frequently reiterated campaign promise with his statement of recognition of Jerusalem. 

Negative reaction from Palestinians and leaders of many Muslim countries to Trump's remarks was to be expected and automatic, as well as from the usual chorus of  Western pro-Palestinian pressure groups, fellow anti-Israeli travelers and the polically correct usual suspects,  though almost all misstated Trump's actual remarks.  Instead, the more extreme condemned Trump's collusion with "Israeli racist manipulation and its creeping process of ethnic cleansing, and its disregard for international law."

Instead of examination and discussion of Trump's statement, the Arab call was for violence and hostile demonstrations.  Senseless belligerence extended to attacks on Israelis riding on the Light Rail, the line that runs through Jerusalem, regarded by Palestinian groups not as a benefit in quick transport for all citizens but as a symbol of Israeli occupation. Noticeably , the animosity went far beyond the Jerusalem question. The calls were "Zionism must die," a reminder of the lives lost and property destroyed in the August 1929 riots by Palestinians caused by fake news over access to the Western Wall. 

The terrorist groups Hamas and Hezb’allah, and Iran-backed Shiite militia fighting in Iraq and Syria called for a new, a third, Intifada, and the continuation of violence.   Those groups recall that this is the 30th anniversary of the first Intifada in 1987. Hamas engaged in its favorite contributions to world peace, firing rockets against Israel from Gaza, and continuing to build tunnels from which to attack Israel.

The Arab lobby was at work with extravagant rhetoric. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian "negotiator" who never negotiates, said Trump's statement created international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law. For him, Trump had taken a step that prejudges the conflict and thus disqualifies the U.S. from any role regarding the conflict. 

 The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, held in an absurd statement that Trump had undermined all peace efforts, and given an impetus to extremism and terrorism.  It held that Trump was encouraging Israel's colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. 

The persecutor of the Kurds, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conspicuous for his tirades against the U.S. and refusal to recognize the authority of the present U.S. Ambassador in Turkey, enigmatically stated that Trump and the US had crossed a "red line."

But it is more difficult to understand the quick negative reaction of European leaders, the punditry of former U.S. State Department officials, and the resolution of the UN Security Council on December 8, 2017 that Trump's statement was unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the Middle East, and would arouse the Arab world.  This unhelpful approach neglects the realities on the ground and suffers from a number of problems. 

The naysayers have argued that Trump has put U.S. allies, moderate Saudi Arabia and UAE, on the defensive, deepened divisions in the Middle East and delays the peace process. Yet both Saudi Arabia, custodian of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, and the UAE have been involved in friendly discussions with Israel, particularly in security and intelligence co-operation against the menace of Iran. It is fallacious to argue that Trump has left them in the lurch. It was noticeable that that at the OIC conference Saudi Arabia and Egypt were represented at a low level, and that an interfaith  Arab delegation from Bahrain visited Israel.

The second point, neglected by the naysayers, is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict cannot be conflated with the "Middle East conflict." It is no longer the main issue in the "Middle East" conflict. It is relatively minor, and one of many issues among the many conflicts raging in the Middle East -- where real violence is continuing.  Total casualty figures in the fighting between Israel and Palestinians are about 7% of those killed in the bitter six-year-old Syrian civil war, and the end is nowhere in sight. Similar figures can display the extent of the casualties in other conflicts, Iraq (probably over 100,000 killed), Syria (at least 200,000 deaths), Sudan, Libya, and Yemen.

A third point is that Arab counties are no longer patrons of Palestinians in the light of the challenge to Sunni states from Iran. The real menace comes from that country, not from Israel, and there is no rational reason to support Palestinian animosity or intransigence towards Israel.

There is no blank check being offered by Trump.  On the contrary, his statement provides an opportunity for the international community to try to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table. It is time for the UN and other bodies to end the antisemitic bombast of Israel as an apartheid state. They might go back to the dream in Hatikvah, to be a free people in the Jewish land.