We had a right to cheer, or at least to be satisfied, by Donald Trump's announcements that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that Israel is not the heart of the Middle East's problems.

 
We also have a right to question the wisdom of the announcements, their weight in real terms, as well as the balance of costs and benefits associated with them.
 
It's a good thing that the major country in the world has finally recognized in an official manner some realities of Israel's situation.
 
On the other hand, there is no assurance that the Embassy will ever move to Jerusalem. We can doubt that it'll come in Trump's first term. He may not have a second. And his successor may not wish to pursue the matter.
 
We shouldn't be too sure that the location of the Embassy is vital. We're living well despite it's being in Tel Aviv.
 
Israelis are also applauding Guatemala for making similar announcements about Israel's capital and its intention to move its Embassy. But it, too, has not announced when the Embassy will move.
 
While we can understand the American's need for time to move a great deal of equipment and a thousand people from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we can only assign politics to whatever is delaying the movement of Guatemala's facility and people. Or person. 
 
The most prominent costs, to Israel, of the White House announcements, have been manageable. Demonstrations for several weekends of Palestinians and some others across the West Bank, Gaza, and Muslim capitals have caused their casualties, but almost entirely to the demonstrators.
 
We can assume that the blast of declarations from the Palestinian leadership will not change anything significant. Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues, as well as some of his sworn enemies have been saying that the Peace Process is dead, that the United States can no longer be a broker, and that the Palestinians must proceed to acquire even greater recognition from international organizations and individual countries.
 
Yet a ranking Egyptian official has said that the Palestinians should make do with Ramallah as their capital.
 
Perhaps the greatest cost of Trump's announcements, and hopefully that manageable, is the stimulus the announcements have given to the Israeli right. Likud party activists have been promoting the extension of Israeli law to the entire West Bank. Some of the less extreme extremists have been promoting the extension of Israeli law only to the Jewish settlements beyond the 1967 borders. Israeli rightists have also managed to legislate a procedural hurdle to complicate any deal that would give Palestinians part of what is currently defined as Jerusalem.
 
Neither proposal seems capable of changing things on the ground. 
 
For all significant purposes, Israeli officials determine issues for the Jewish settlements. Except for occasional incursions for security concerns--often with the cooperation of Palestinian security forces who see the Israelis as operating principally against our common enemies (Hamas and those even more extreme)--Israel should have no interest in imposing greater controls over the Palestinian communities.
 
There's another effort to legislate a death penalty for terrorists.
 
There's already a death penalty on the books, but judges, in both military and civilian courts, have refused to employ it, except in the case of Adolf Eichmann, in 1962.
 
So far the only result of the Knesset passing in a preliminary vote, a death penalty, is a predicted wave of international protests. 
 
With respect to "Jerusalem," whose shape has changed countless times since David composed his story, the most recent effort to insure its future in a peace process comes when there are no peace negotiations anywhere on the horizon.
 
The results of the Knesset's efforts may not only be violent demonstrations, but also another round of international condemnations and renewed efforts by BDS activists.
 
The most direct losses for Israel as a result of BDS have been pop artists who decline to appear here, under pressure from Palestinians and their friends.
 
A more serious impact seems to be on American Jews, especially students at the colleges where Palestinians and their supporters are active among students and faculty, and where BDS has moved to include more explicit anti-Semitism.
 
Great declarations, heroic, and otherworldly stories have long been known to move masses of people. We have to go no further than the myths at the heart of the great religions, like what the Biblical Prophets claimed to hear from the Almighty, or the stories of virgin birth and resurrection. 
 
Such symbols are infinitely more fascinating than deciding "What next?" after the President announces that he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
 
The slogan of bread and circuses came out of the Roman Empire to express what the people wanted from their rulers. Not all that different are the symbolic utterances that sound great but do not deliver anything tangible. Or whose most tangible results are the feeling of accomplishment for those who are pleased, and the feeling of offense among those who may be moved to anger or violence. 
 
 
Comments welcome



-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

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