This past Wednesday, President Trump declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and promised to move the United States Embassy there in the near future. In light of Trump’s announcement, a Palestinian spokesman pronounced the “peace process” and its proposed “two-state solution” - - already on life support - - officially dead. Most major publications, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, slammed Trump’s declaration calling it a “reversal of long-standing United States’ policy.” Actually, as a matter of United States policy and law, Congress declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel in 1995 when it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support the Jerusalem Embassy Act and required that the United States Embassy be moved to Jerusalem by 1999.In spite of Congress’ mandate and the repeated promises of every President to follow the law since its passage twenty-two years ago, successive Presidents have routinely signed six month waivers of the law to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for “national security” reasons. These reasons have ranged from a desire not to disrupt the “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians and fear that the Arab street would erupt in violence over any change in status of the Holy City.
Now President Trump has decided to enforce the law and the world generally, including the Palestinian authorities, has condemned the move. Here’s why it’s not such a bad idea.
First, under Article II of the Constitution, the President’s chief obligation is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, President Trump merely fulfilled his constitutional duty to enforce the 1995 Embassy Act. The fact that previous Presidents choose to ignore the law does not establish long-standing policy contrary to Congress’ intent. In implementing congressional intent, President Trump is merely insuring that “the laws be faithfully executed.”
Second, the President did nothing more than declare what everyone, including the Palestinians, already know: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. All branches of the Israeli government and its ministries are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel's parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister and President, and the Supreme Court. What other country in the world does not get to decide where its capital is located?
The deep-seated connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish people extends almost three millennia. In 1000 B.C., King David conquered the city and made it the capital of his kingdom. The kings of Judah lived and died here. Jerusalem has long been the focus of three pilgrimages each year for thousands of Jews celebrating the festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. The destruction of the First Temple and the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem are well recorded in the historical record. The Second Temple period added another 500 years of Jewish dominion over the city. After the destruction of the Second Temple (six hundred years before the Muslim religion came into being), the memory of the city came to embody the aspirations of the Jewish people for the next two thousand years. At the end of every Passover seder, Jews exclaim “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
As for the Palestinian claim to the city, not so much. No Palestinian entity ever ruled over Jerusalem. Ever. Indeed, the Palestinian people as a political body only came into existence in 1964. Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Koran. Not once.
Regarding the argument that recognition of Israel will interfere with the “peace process,” one can only answer in amazement, what “peace process?” In the seventy years since the United Nations determined to partition the British Mandate territory into two separate states with Jerusalem as an international city (a plan which the Arabs rejected), there has been no peace. In the twenty-four years since the most recent “peace process” began with the signing of the Oslo accords, there has been no peace in spite of the fact that the Palestinians have been offered East Jerusalem as the capital of their own independent state on at least two occasions during the “peace process,” both of which offers the Palestinians rejected outright. Maintaining Jerusalem’s neutrality has not enticed the Palestinians to embrace peace. Why should recognition of reality at this time obstruct an imaginary peace process?
As for the concern that President Trump’s move will lead to violence, where is it written that United States policy should be held hostage to threats of violence from terrorists? The same threat was repeated at the United Nations in 1947 during the debate over the independence vote for the State of Israel. President Truman had the courage to stand up to these threats and vote for the independence of Israel (and a separate Palestinian state) at the time. The Israelis were not deterred by threats of extinction and fought a war of independence which cost the state one percent of its population. Over the years, the United States and Israel have refused to give in to blackmail by terrorists all over the world. It is well time that the Palestinians learn that their bombastic calls for jihad and “days of rage” where their irrational demands are not met fall on deaf ears. In a civilized world, threats to kill and maim innocent civilians is simply not an acceptable negotiating strategy. At the end of the day, President Trump's declaration is more than a mere announcement of the relocation of the United States embassy. Prior to this historic proclamation, the Palestinian leadership was of the misguided view that time was on its side. That the longer it engaged in rampant terrorism, the sooner the Israelis would just give up and miraculously disappear. Now, for the first time, the Palestinian Authority is on notice that time is not on its side. The longer it rejects a peaceful solution to the conflict, the more it has to lose. Today Jerusalem. Tomorrow, with expanding "settlements," any hope of an independent state in the West Bank. The Palestinian people know that they do not have another seventy years to waste. Perhaps that is why the response to the President's message has thus far been so muted. Finally, it is well time that the Palestinians accept the fact that they have lost their war to exterminate the Jews in the land of Israel. Time after time for over seventy years, they have launched wars of extinction against the Jewish people and each time they have been defeated. There should be a statute of limitations on launching wars. Generally, it’s a one time affair. A country loses a war and that’s it. The world moves on. There are no mulligans in war. Following World War II, Germany did not attempt to refight to war in the following decades. And yet, the Palestinians lose war after war (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1978, 1985, 2006, 2014) and live to fight another day. Where else is that acceptable? It is way past time for the Palestinians (and their allies in the West) to recognize that they have lost their hundred years war of extermination and it is time to move on to improve the lives of their own people instead of attempting once again to destroy the lives of others.
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. That’s where any honest peace process begins.
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Steve Frank retired after a career as an appellate lawyer with the United States Department of Justice. He recently returned from an extended visit to Israel where he toured Jewish communities and Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria. Mr. Frank is a representative of the Shomron Regional Council, one of the councils overseeing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.