It is almost as if the Trump Administration has administered a truth serum to the Palestinian leadership with its statements on Jerusalem.
When Trump declared on December 7 that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Palestinians responded with rage. Sometimes it seems like rage is the default emotion for Palestinians where Israel is concerned, but it is not immediately obvious why Trump’s remarks were so enraging.
Trump was careful to say that the announcement did not specify the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty, which should be determined by negotiations between the parties. The Palestinians have demanded that the city be re-divided according to the “Green line,” the 1949 armistice line that separated pre-1967 Israel from the Jordanian-occupied section of the city, and Trump’s statement does not rule this out. Indeed, he said that he wished to facilitate a peace agreement that would establish permanent boundaries. What’s the problem?
Yesterday, in connection with the upcoming visit of Vice President Pence, an American official said that it would be “hard to imagine” that the Western Wall would not be part of Israel in a final settlement. This, too, provoked Palestinian fury. Abbas’ senior aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh responded that the Palestinian Authority would not accept any changes to the “borders” of “East Jerusalem.” But one has to ask: if they think there is an East Jerusalem with a “border,” what is on the other side of it?
Do the Palestinians expect that the US will say that all of Jerusalem belongs to them? Clearly not. So why the rage, the riots, the rockets and the terrorism?
Some of the reasons are related to other things that Trump said in his speech, as well as things he did not say.
Trump recognized the historical fact that Jerusalem is “the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times.” This directly contradicts the Palestinian narrative that Jews have no history in the land before the 20th century, when they descended upon an ancient Palestinian civilization and uprooted it.
Despite the fact that the strongest possible historical and archaeological evidence exists for the traditional Western narrative of Jewish provenance in the Land of Israel, the Palestinians and other Arabs are capable of believing (perhaps simultaneously) various conflicting stories, such as that they are descended from Canaanites or Philistines. The same mental ability that allows Arabs to believe that the Mossad perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and at the same time hail them as a great victory for Islam, makes the Palestinian narrative believable to them. Only recently, with the advent of post-modern scholarship, have Westerners become capable of similar intellectual gymnastics!
Trump also said that he wished to facilitate a peace agreement that was “acceptable to both sides,” and that the US would “support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.” The Palestinians know that no such arrangement is possible. They know that their idea of a “two-state solution” is far different from the Israeli-accepted one of “two states for two peoples.” Their version calls for a Palestinian Arab state in which Jews will not be welcome, alongside an Israel that will cease defining itself as a Jewish state and absorb millions of Arab “refugees,” and they know Israel will never agree to that.
In recent years, Palestinian leaders have clung to the hope that a friendly American administration and UN, with the help of anti-Israel Western European countries and perhaps Russia and China, would force Israel to accept their terms. But today, with Trump in the White House, conservative forces gaining more and more power in Europe, Russia dependent to some extent on Israel in order to achieve her goals in Syria, the Sunni Arab states viewing Israel as a savior in their struggle with Iran, Israel becoming a major economic player in the Mideast and Europe due to its gas reserves, and an overall increase in Israel’s influence throughout the world, the Palestinian project is looking harder and harder to accomplish.
This, perhaps is what Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat meant when he said that Trump’s action “destroyed all possibility of two states.” But precisely what it destroyed was the idea of imposing the Palestinian version of the two-state solution on an unwilling Israel.
Trump’s speech included a call for free access to the holy sites of all religions and the maintenance of the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. The Palestinians might pay lip service to this principle in the abstract. But if there were negotiations that specifically mentioned various sites, it is doubtful that they would agree to permit access to Jewish sites in Palestinian territory; and if they did agree, they would not allow it in practice. Today Jewish sites in Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A like Joseph’s Tomb, can only have Jewish visitors when they are accompanied by a military escort. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, there are no Jewish sites (even the Western Wall is called the al-buraq wall, referring to an event in Islamic narrative).
The denial of the Palestinian narrative, the dashing of their hopes for an imposed settlement, and the contradiction of what they consider inviolable Islamic principles, were explicit in Trump’s speech. And now let’s look at what he did not say.
President Obama had said several times that “the Palestinians deserve a state” and made it clear that he envisioned the outcome of negotiations as including the declaration of a sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state. The Palestinians go even farther and act as though they already have a state, and that it is “under occupation.” They view the negotiations as a way to get rid of the occupying power and implement their already existing “rights.” This, incidentally, is why Palestinian supporters like to talk about the land of Israel as “Israel/Palestine.”
But Trump did not say that there is, or ought to be, a “Palestine.” It doesn’t exist today, and whether it will in the future depends on whether the two parties can agree. He said that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel (although he didn’t specify exactly how much of the city belonged to Israel), but at the same time he did not say that any part of the city was the capital of “Palestine.” The Palestinians demand reciprocity in every respect with Israel because they think they have equal national status. Clearly Trump doesn’t think so.
Previous presidents often spoke ambiguously, allowing the Palestinians to keep their equivocal usage of such concepts as “two-state solution” and their denial of obvious facts, such as that there is a legitimate sovereign state of Israel whose capital is Jerusalem. But their anger at Trump’s entirely realistic and fair declaration gives away their game.
With a few simple words, Trump pierced the veil and exposed the Palestinian doublespeak for what it is. No wonder they are enraged!