Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
President Trump last Wednesday announced that the United States formally recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that work will start on physically moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The uproar over this announcement epitomizes the futility and duplicity that for seven decades has fed the lies lying at the heart of the conflict between Israel and Arabs. But Trump’s announcement should be just the beginning of a radical paradigm shift in how this country deals with the region.
One change is to abandon the appeasing gestures and empty diplomatic formulae that typify our feckless diplomacy. What Trump proposed is not a substantive change, but an acknowledgment of reality. Jerusalem already is Israel’s capital: its parliament, the Knesset, is already there, as are its supreme court, numerous government agencies, and the residence of its president. Visiting dignitaries meet their Israeli counter parts in Jerusalem. In every respect, Jerusalem functions as a national capital, except one: foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.
Keeping embassies in Tel Aviv, then, is an endorsement of the Arab lie that Jerusalem is a particularly sacred Islamic city, and so should be the capital of future Palestinian state. But going along with this canard merely validates propaganda and a revisionist history the purpose of which is to alienate Jews from their traditional homeland in order to achieve the ultimate aim: destroying Israel as a state. The truth is, Jerusalem has been a Jewish city for three thousand years, as documented in historical records and archaeological finds. Even a 1925 Muslim guide-book to Jerusalem said that the Temple Mount’s status as the site of the First Temple and the altar of King David “is beyond dispute.” Conquest, ethnic cleansing, and foreign occupation have not broken that claim, and for most of history Jews have been the majority of occupants––in 1948, more than twice as many Jews lived in Jerusalem than Arabs, and today 120,000 more Jews than Arabs live there.
Nor is the claim that Jerusalem is one of Islam’s holiest site accurate. That notion is a later one, based on a few vague Koranic verses, and it became significant only after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War as a propaganda tool for demonizing Israel and soliciting international support. Before 1967, Jerusalem was a provincial backwater for the Arabs, and the Palestinian’s founding charter, the 1964 Palestinian National Covenant, does not mention Jerusalem at all. But even if Jerusalem does have a special significance for Islam, that happened only by dint of conquest, invasion, and occupation. And yes, Israel recovered their holiest site by conquest during a defensive war. If we want, however, to assign title by adjudicating competing historical claims based on continuing cultural and religious connections, Muslims lose the debate. We need to stop taking seriously the demand that Jerusalem be the capital of some imagined Palestinian state that Palestinian Arabs by their violent deeds, and their serial rejection of four offers of a state, have done nothing constructive to create.
The claim to Jerusalem––like the “right to return” of the ever-metastasizing “Palestinian refugees,” and the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from lands their ancestors had inhabited nearly two thousand years before Islam existed––is a demand meant to forestall any final agreement that doesn’t further the Palestinian Arabs’ eliminationist aims. For states in the West, on the other hand, the claim facilitates doing nothing meaningful to resolve the dispute, and masks with duplicitous diplomacy their scapegoating and often outright anti-Semitic hostility to Israel.
Like the endless series of futile “summits” and “shuttle diplomacy” and “conferences,” the 1995 law requiring the U.S. government to recognize Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel and the appropriate site of our embassy, has been just such a diplomatic fig leaf for political leaders who serve their national and electoral interests rather than sincerely resolving the conflict. For example, no doubt pandering to American Jews, Bill Clinton said, “I have always wanted to move our Embassy to west Jerusalem.” He did nothing. Georg Bush similarly said, “As soon as I take office I will begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.” He did nothing. Barack Obama continued the tradition when he said, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” And he did nothing.
The provision of “waivers” in the law that allow it to be postponed indefinitely shows that it was meant as a political public relations gesture, an intent confirmed by 22-years-worth of waivers, and by the complaints about Trump’s move on the part of Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein, who voted for the 1995 law, and just last June voted for a Senate resolution that proclaimed “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel.” How dare Trump actually enforce the law!
Indeed, most of the diplomatic activity concerning the conflict has comprised similar clichéd pantomimes performed by nations who have not considered resolving the conflict, or angering Arabs, to be in their domestic or global interests. Hence all the phrases traded among global elites are Orwellian camouflage: “land for peace,” “secure borders for Israel,” “two state solution,” “peace process” “national aspirations” “cycle of violence,” “negotiated settlement” –– all are diplomatic incantations divorced from reality.
A “negotiated settlement” delivered by the “peace process” will never achieve peace with a “two state solution,” for the simple reason that critical mass of Palestinian Arabs has proven over and over that they do not want peace or a nation as much as they want to destroy Israel and kill Jews. Nor will abandoning Judea and Samaria to achieve the “two-state solution” provide “secure borders for Israel,” which has gone down that road in Gaza and gotten nothing in return other than terrorist attacks and rocket barrages. No country in history would cede such geographic advantages to an enemy sworn to its destruction. But that is what an armed Palestinian nation in those territories would enjoy over Israel if Judea and Samaria were turned over to them and ethnically cleansed of Jews. As for “Nationalist aspirations,” the nation-state is not organic to Islam, which recognize the world-wide umma of believers as the only legitimate political regime as defined by sharia law. And the cowardly “cycle of violence” canard is a euphemism for moral idiocy, an inability to hold to account those who initiate violence, and a slander of the targets of that aggression when they defend themselves.
The continued endorsement by the West of these specious goals bespeaks a willful failure to understand the motives and purposes of peoples who we arrogantly assume just want we want. And much of the complaint we’re hearing about Trump’s (so far) radical break with that failure is shock that the president would discard foreign policy “traditions,” and reject the received wisdom of the Foggy Bottom and E.U. big brains. Thus the High Representative of the E.U. for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, fretted, “A way must be found, through negotiations, to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states. We believe that any action that would undermine this effort must absolutely be avoided.” A Turkish official agreed, saying that Trump’s announcement could “completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region, and lead to new conflicts, new disputes and new unrest.”
No matter that decades of “negotiations” have failed miserably, no matter that there is no legitimate “peace process,” given that one side in the conflict, the Palestinian Arabs, does not participate in good faith. The “peace process” is already “finished,” as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made clear in 2014 when he said that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. So why should we credit his bluster now when he says that Trump’s action is “a threat to the future of the peace process”?
Trump should ignore such self-serving rhetoric, as well as the veiled threats of violence or other dire consequences on the part of nations like Jordan or Saudi Arabia. For all their public rhetoric of his “unwarranted and irresponsible step,” as Saudi Arabia put it, they rely too heavily on U.S. foreign aid and goodwill in order to counter the real threat posed to them by Iran. It’s doubtful that they will squander those boons just because our embassy is moved. And saying, as the Saudis did, that Trump’s action is a “a drastic regression” in peace prospects is meaningless give that there is not a real “peace process.”
As for Hamas’ call for “days of rage,” “intifadas,” and other threats of violence from terrorist outfits to protest the announcement, all are just business as usual for groups that exist only to commit violence, in this case rationalized with the specious pretext of Trump’s announcement. So too with the PLO and its threats: We’ve had decades of violence from Palestinians based on manufactured affronts, and carefully staged for the benefit of the international media. Nor should we credit other jihadist groups who say that Trump gave them “a legitimate reason to target the U.S.” They’ve been targeting the U.S. for decades.
Trump’s announcement is a good first step in dismantling the stale paradigm that has worsened the conflict. So too is the soon to be passed Taylor Force Act, which will cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops spending $300 million a year on subsidizing the families of terrorist murderers. But Trump can’t let his announcement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel turn out, like the 1995 law, to be another bait-and-switch, a device for fulfilling a campaign promise without actually doing so. Failing to move the embassy would repeat the same mistake of letting threats of violence or international disapproval force us to change our behavior. Caving in to threats and failing to act on our own damages our prestige and efficacy in foreign affairs, as Barack “red line” Obama proved over and over.
But these moves should just be the start. To effect a meaningful transformation of policy, the whole creaking infrastructure of our approach to the Israel-Arab conflict must be changed. Reject the pretext of “Palestinian nationalist aspirations.” Stop treating Mahmoud Abbas, the chief of a corrupt terrorist gang, like a legitimate head of state.” Cut off all U.S. tax dollars, both direct and indirect, to the PA. Stop arming and training PA “police” and “security agents.” Stop crediting false pretexts for Palestinian Arab violence. Stop participating in “summits,” “conferences,” and other desperate efforts to create a peace that one side scorns. Stop taking seriously the U.N. cartel of pygmy states and authoritarian thugs, who regularly promulgate vicious lies like the recent Security Council Resolution that declared Judaism’s most sacred places in Jerusalem to be a “flagrant violation under international law.” And most important, announce to the world that the U.S. is done with the whole bloody “peace negotiations” farce that has warped our foreign policy in the region, and compromised the security and endangered the lives of the only liberal-democratic country in the Middle East.
All these elements of our diplomacy in the region have been a form of danegeld, the payments to terrorists and state-terrorist supporters to keep them from attacking our citizens and interests. Such ransom never works, for as Kipling said, “Once you pay the danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane.” Time to put it to an end.