Some thoughts on President Trump’s historic (yes, it is) declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel:
1) Some commentators minimize its importance. There seem to be two kinds of minimizers: friendly and unfriendly. Friendly minimizers say things like “the reality is that it’s our capital and nothing anyone can say can change that. So Trump’s declaration doesn’t matter.” The unfriendly ones say “Trump is biased and an Islamophobe, who cares what he says?”
Both of these positions are wrong. To the friendly ones, I say that appearance may not be reality, but it helps create it, especially in politics. Our enemies know this well, which is why they aggressively promulgate ridiculous lies, like insisting that there is no Jewish connection to Jerusalem, that there was no Temple there, or that Palestinian Arabs are descended from Canaanites. Truth is truth, but a curtain of lies can obscure it, and after a while nobody knows the difference.
Trump can’t make Jerusalem our capital – only the people of Israel can do that. But a declaration by the president of what is still the most powerful and richest country in the world carries weight. His statement represents a crack in the truly antisemitic double standard that has been applied to Israel with respect to Jerusalem since 1948.
To our enemies, I say that if it is so unimportant, why are you so upset? Why are Palestinian Arabs rioting and trying to kill Jews with firebombs and rocks, why are we being bombarded with rockets from Gaza, why are Europeans denouncing it in the UN Security Council, and why is the Turkish president mounting a major diplomatic offensive to reverse it? Why is there an outbreak of Jew-hatred all over the world? If it doesn’t mean anything, why don’t you just ignore it?
Perhaps calling it the “Trump Declaration” is a bit much. But compare it to the Balfour Declaration. Although it was ultimately embodied in international law, the Balfour Declaration itself was nothing more than a statement of the opinion of a majority of the British Cabinet. Yet both friends and enemies of the Jewish state understood, then and now, its significance.
Since 1948, the international community has held that Jerusalem is too important to be placed in the hands of the Jews it despised, even though only the Jews have ever made the holy places of the three religions accessible to everyone. The Muslims would like to control it for their benefit alone, as was demonstrated during the 19-year Jordanian occupation, marked by triumphalist destruction of Jewish sites.
The post-Christian descendants of barbarian tribes (i.e., the Europeans) seem to think their moral superiority entitles them to rule over the holy city, whose spiritual power even they admit. But their violent opposition to Trump’s quite moderate declaration illustrates that the rational, social-democratic façade covering their atavistic Jew-hatred is thinner than we thought.
2) The US State Department seems to take the partly-friendly position that “it reflects reality, but there are no practical consequences.” So they have announced that there will be no changes to consular procedures. People born in Jerusalem will continue to have only “Jerusalem” rather than “Jerusalem, Israel” on their passports. The desire to not change anything seems to have led them to the absurd position that they can say that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but they cannot admit that the city is in Israel (because then they might have to put it on a passport).
I expect that the State Department will fight tooth and nail to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. They will try to wait Trump out. Maybe he will only serve one term, they think. He has given them a chance to do the right thing by signing the waiver, in order to let them do what they need to do without time pressure. But if he feels they are not acting in good faith, all he has to do is let the 6-month deadline pass.
3) Both Trump and the State Department stress that while Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, they do not wish to say precisely what Jerusalem is.
In Trump’s words,
We are not taking a position of any final status issues including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.
For good measure, he added that the status quo at the Temple Mount (which he also referred to as haram al-sharif) should be maintained.
Israel welcomed Trump’s statement, despite the caveat. Even though it implicitly contradicted Israel’s official position that it is sovereign in all of Jerusalem, most Israelis, except the Arabs and the most extreme Jewish parties, applauded.
In April, the Russian Foreign Ministry made a statement similar to Trump’s, except that it distinguished between East and West Jerusalem, presumably according to the 1949 armistice line (the “Green Line”):
We reaffirm our commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
But after Trump’s speech, the Ministry announced that it was “seriously concerned.” Since, logically speaking, Trump’s declaration said less than its own statement in April (the Russian statement specified boundaries of sovereignty and Trump’s did not) one wonders what the Russians are “concerned” about.
The Palestinians are also inconsistent. The official Palestinian negotiating position (according to a PA statement of 2006) on Jerusalem is that “East Jerusalem” is occupied territory which should be under Palestinian sovereignty. “West Jerusalem,” according to them, is subject to final status negotiations. This is contradicted by the Russian statement, which unequivocally gives West Jerusalem to Israel, while Trump’s statement is consistent with it! Nevertheless, the Palestinians did not riot in April, nor did the Europeans have fits.
“Trump just destroyed the possibility of two states,” said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, moments after Trump’s speech. I admit that I am totally at a loss to see how he did that. Maybe someone can explain this to me.
I can’t come to any other conclusion than that much of the reaction is a form of “Trump derangement syndrome.” Trump bent over backwards to make a carefully calibrated, moderate statement that would not prejudge negotiations while still recognizing reality. And yet, the Russians, the Palestinians and Muslim states, and the Europeans (not to mention the Democrats and the Union for Reform Judaism in the US) found it unacceptable.
The problem, apparently, is not what was said but who said it.