From Jerusalem jubilation to capital conundrum

The timing of the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference at the capital’s Waldorf Astoria hotel Wednesday could not have been better.

By
December 8, 2017 16:30
4 minute read.
American and Israeli flags

American and Israeli flags. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)

 
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The timing of the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference at the capital’s Waldorf Astoria hotel Wednesday could not have been better.

Thanks to the announcement on the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by US President Donald Trump later that day, the eyes of the world were on Jerusalem and on the speakers at the conference, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

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It was not just for the newspaper that the timing was ideal, but also for the politicians.

The newspaper has had to deal for decades with the consequences of the arguably outdated axiom in Israel that it is forbidden to air dirty laundry abroad for the nations of the world to see.

That is why even the fiercest critics of the government often sound like advisers to the prime minister when they are overseas. Because the politicians know the overwhelming majority of The Jerusalem Post’s readership is not in Israel, they often hesitate to speak too critically in the newspaper.

But those same politicians love it when they can use this newspaper as a tool to make sure their voice is heard by world leaders and other movers and shakers in the international community. The conference provided a wonderful opportunity for politicians to praise Trump’s forthcoming announcement and to urge other countries to follow suit.

Those messages came from politicians from different parties, who sounded virtually indistinguishable when they spoke about Jerusalem and the president of the United States.

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The press releases from Knesset members across the political spectrum that followed Trump’s speech hours later were also more unified than ever, with only Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich on the far Right and Meretz and Joint List MKs on the far Left cautious or critical.

The national consensus on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and on the need for every embassy to be there cannot be demonstrated any better than by the similar look of rival newspapers Israel Hayom and Yediot Aharonot Thursday. They both had headlines in English thanking Trump, American and Israeli flags over the Old City walls, columns with positive headlines, and plenty of red, white and blue.

Like the responses from the MKs, the only break with the consensus in the morning newspapers came from Haaretz, the paper proud to be furthest from the Israeli consensus. Haaretz illustrated Jerusalem with a frightening black-hatted and bearded man in front of those same Old City walls, inexplicably tinted orange, alongside headlines about Trump “upending Mideast diplomacy” and Netanyahu using Trump to distract the masses from his corruption probes.

The previous day in the papers was similar. Haaretz featured an Arabic poster portraying Trump as Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) in its lead photo, with headlines of columns telling Trump “not to do us any favors” and calling the moves “an empty gesture.” The more mainstream Hebrew dailies all had patriotic and positive speculation on their covers.

But unfortunately for Netanyahu and Trump, that consensus in Israel cannot last forever.

Besides the words that were welcomed so warmly, Trump also stressed in his speech that the US is “not taking a position on any final-status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders.”

The president said he intends to do everything in his power to facilitate a peace agreement, endorsed a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides, and noted that “the Temple Mount is also known as Haram al-Sharif.”

That didn’t sit too well with Smotrich, who quoted Trump’s speech about not expecting better results from repeating formulas that have not worked in the past. He used Trump’s own words to criticize what the president said a few minutes later about creating a Palestinian state.

On the Left, Meretz MK Michal Rozin tweeted that “Netanyahu is used to receiving presents,” but that Israelis would “pay a heavy price” for the gift from Trump. Smotrich responded by tweeting to Rozin that “it is unfortunate that there are Jews who... remain without a single drop” of national pride.

That argument on social media is likely a sign of the coming conflicts between those for or against what the president wants to accomplish in the months ahead.

In those same months ahead, Netanyahu’s criminal investigations are expected to escalate. While Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said at the conference that Netanyahu would not need to leave office if he is indicted, will they still be as generous to the prime minister if he is making concessions in Judea, Samaria or Jerusalem at the time? Bennett told the crowd of ambassadors that he did not expect that Israel would be asked to pay a price for Trump’s gestures to the Jewish state on Jerusalem. It remains to be seen whether Trump would agree with that or whether it was wishful thinking.

It is also unclear whether Arab violence will make the Americans overcompensate the Palestinians for Trump’s current gestures, whether an increasingly frustrated international community will try to punish Trump by harming Israel, and how Israeli politicians would handle such challenging tests.

Israelis in the consensus can meanwhile continue their jubilation over Jerusalem, knowing that conundrums over their newly recognized capital still lie ahead.

By next year’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, perhaps these conundrums will be closer to being resolved.

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