The Reality of Jerusalem by President Donald Trump

The Reality of Jerusalem

Trump honors a campaign pledge on the Israeli capital.

The Israeli and the U.S. flags are seen projected on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Dec. 6.
The Israeli and the U.S. flags are seen projected on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Dec. 6. PHOTO: OREN ZIV/ZUMA PRESS

President Trump honored a campaign pledge on Wednesday when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The decision is hardly the radical policy departure that critics claim, and Mr. Trump accompanied it with an embrace of the two-state solution for Palestine that Presidents of both parties have long supported.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995 in a bill President Clinton declined to veto. Other Presidents have agreed in principle, and even campaigned on it, but in office they used a waiver to put off any formal recognition or move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The difference is that Mr. Trump apparently meant what he said as a candidate.

Mr. Trump called his decision on Wednesday “a recognition of reality,” and he’s right. Israel’s parliament, Supreme Court and the president and prime minister’s residences are housed in Jerusalem, and U.S. Presidents and Secretaries of State meet their Israeli counterparts there.

Yet official U.S. policy is that both Israel and the Palestinians must agree on the future status of Jerusalem, since the Palestinians claim the city as their capital too. President Trump isn’t taking sides on that issue. The White House proclamation acknowledges that “Jerusalem is a highly-sensitive issue” and doesn’t distinguish between West Jerusalem, which houses Israel’s government, and East Jerusalem, which Israel has administered since the 1967 Six Day War.

Mr. Trump combined his Embassy move with renewed intent to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and he doesn’t rule out a Palestinian state as part of the solution. Administration officials reiterated that intention Wednesday, saying progress is being made behind the scenes. Color us skeptical given the long history of failure, but the U.S. is trying.

One way the Palestinian Authority could signal a new seriousness would be to stop paying the families of Palestinians who kill innocent Israelis. The House passed the Taylor Force Act Tuesday, which would reduce U.S. aid to the Palestinians until they renounce pay-for-slay payments. A Senate vote may follow this month.

Arab leaders denounced the Embassy move, but we wonder how long the fury will last. The Sunni Arabs also confront the threats of Islamic terrorism and Iranian imperialism, and the Palestinians are a third order concern. If the movement of an American Embassy that was signaled more than 20 years ago is enough to scuttle peace talks, then maybe the basis for peace doesn’t yet exist.

Appeared in the December 7, 2017, print edition.

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