In Israel’s early years, every time the U.S. ambassador traveled to Jerusalem to meet with government leaders, he would have his chauffeur stop his car at the entrance to the city, and replace its diplomatic license plates with regular civilian plates.
The State Department refused to recognize that Jerusalem was part of Israel. The license plates were for Israel. And so, in a show of contempt and rejection of Israel’s right to its capital city, he removed his diplomatic plates before entering Jerusalem, and put them back on when he left.
President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize the State of Israel, just moments after David Ben-Gurion declared its independence on May 14, 1948. But his recognition was skin deep. Truman, like all of his successors until Donald Trump, recognized Israel’s existence but didn’t recognize the Jewishness of Israel.
He saw Israel as a refuge for Holocaust survivors and other Jews fleeing persecution, but he didn’t accept that the nation of Israel in 1948 was the nation of Israel from the Bible. He didn’t accept that the Jewish refugees in European DP camps were the descendants of the prophets or that the forefathers of the kibbutzniks in the Jezreel Valley were the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Truman’s anti-historical view of the Jewish state produced a two-faced American policy towards Israel. On the one hand, the American officials spoke warmly of the Jewish homeland. On the other hand, they treated Israel like a beggar that should be thankful for scraps and loose change.
But America’s ambivalence towards Zionism — the liberation movement of the ancient Jewish people —persevered. The U.S.’s adamant refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Washington’s opposition to all Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza attested to this fact.
For America to recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s control and Israel’s sovereign rights to these areas, America’s leaders would need to recognize the simple fact that Israel is not a refuge for a persecuted, pitiable people, but the homeland of the eternal nation of Israel. And all U.S. presidents until Trump preferred to deny this truth. As a matter of U.S. policy, they transferred the Jewish nation’s historical rights to the Palestinians, who have no national history.
Trump changes history
But then, three years ago, Trump entered the White House. On Tuesday, Trump said that Israel is a light to the nations, that the land of Israel is the promised land and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. He said that Jerusalem cannot be liberated because it’s already been liberated. He said that no one will be removed from their home for peace.
Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro delivered a not particularly veiled threat to Israelis who might be tempted to accept Trump’s framework for peace. Shapiro stunned the diplomatic world when he refused to leave Israel at the end of his term and instead took a position at a left-leaning Israeli think tank. He has used his position to criticize President Trump’s Middle East policies.
In an interview with Army Radio on Sunday, Shapiro said, “I think Israeli citizens should take into account that in less than a year there could be a new, Democratic administration — if not in a year then in five years. Trump won’t be president forever. It is important to know that any Democratic candidate will oppose this plan and that no Democratic president will be bound by it.”
Shapiro continued, “If Trump is encouraging Israel to take unilateral steps such as annexing the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs, that guarantees there will be a clash with a Democratic administration in less than a year. I don’t think this is a positive thing for the relations between the countries and I advise against immediate actions that future administrations will oppose.”
It is not at all clear that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz understands the gravity of the moment. Shapiro essentially reinforced the point that Trump is providing Israel with a chance to secure its interests that it isn’t likely to receive again.
So too, it is far from clear that the leaders of the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria understand the significance of Trump’s actions. On Tuesday, Trump recognized the truth at the foundation of Zionism and made that truth the foundation of America’s policy regarding the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
Netanyahu pledged to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria on Sunday. Every Jew in Israel and worldwide should expect that he and his ministers fulfill this pledge, and every Jew in Israel and worldwide should feel thankful to Trump for his friendship and for his courage to embrace the truth.