God Bless Trump banner in Jerusalem put up in honor of Trump's announcement.
(photo credit: ILAN SKOLNIK FOZ)
For more than 3,000 years Jews have prayed and yearned for Jerusalem. They have viewed this holy city, located at the Patriarchs’ perceived heart of the universe, as the Jewish people’s eternal capital. Now, the world’s strongest superpower has also officially recognized this fact.
That is huge.
Cynical commentators tried to downplay the significance of US President Donald Trump’s declaration by emphasizing his ostensible commitment to a two-state solution (“if that’s what both sides want”) and the protraction of the status quo. These critics missed the point, and such downsizing is like belittling the Balfour Declaration and its subsequent significance to international law and the eventual recognition of Israel, because Lord Balfour also stated “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities....”
True, Trump said something similar, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightfully reaffirmed his commitment to that, but the essence of Trump’s declaration is that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the international community should start recognizing it as such.
The importance of this acknowledgment cannot be overstated.
The importance of one aspect, however, may have been overlooked: the prime minister’s ability to compromise and perhaps make concessions for a true and durable peace has now grown. President Trump’s belated declaration is one of Israel’s greatest diplomatic achievements ever – an achievement that affords Netanyahu the personal and political maneuverability for largesse. He has made history and now can move to more practical goals.
Trump’s main motives for the declaration were: 1) It was a key campaign promise he wanted to keep; 2) it was a show of leadership that differentiates him from past presidents; and 3) his beloved “base” will love it.
Netanyahu pushed for this declaration (for over 30 years) because: 1) he truly sees Jerusalem as the cornerstone of Jewish identity; 2) he wants to make history; and 3) his devoted “base” will also love it, and so should his opposition.
The negotiations on the final boundaries between the Palestinians and Israel, if the sides ever get to it, will be difficult to agree on, but Trump’s declaration will now make it easier for Netanyahu to compromise, and the Palestinians should seize this moment.
There may now be a short-term violent fallout. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned there would be “dangerous consequences.” Other Palestinian politicians have called for “days of rage” and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Trump crossed a Muslim “red line.” Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, warned that Trump’s proclamation could “trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts.”
These are the same kind of things extremists almost always say whenever the United States or anyone else does anything they perceive as supportive of Israel.
We should not be overly alarmed by these threats. The sky has yet to fall, but even if there is short-term violence – like the wave of hideous incitement and violence that followed the overdue opening of Jerusalem’s Western Wall tunnel in September 1996 – it will be a price for a just peace worth paying. For as Israeli leaders have said for years, there can be “no real peace without recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
December 6, 2017, does not need to be a day that goes down in Palestinian infamy. The Palestinians, who have been pampered throughout the peace process, should stop their “all or nothing” negotiation strategy, as it has often led to nothing. They should focus on their vital interest for independence, while putting political positioning and far-fetched fantasies aside.
President Trump reiterated that he does not oppose a two-state solution if that is what the parties want. When and if a Palestinian state is established – for the first time ever – the Palestinians will have the prerogative to determine where its capital is within the borders of that future entity. It is not a coincidence, however, that despite being ruled by more than a dozen different rulers throughout history, including Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, British and Jordanians, no one except Israel has ever proclaimed Jerusalem to be its capital – and no one else ever should.The author is a visiting research scholar at Georgetown University and a fellow at the International Counter-Terrorism Institute in Herzliya. The opinions expressed in this piece are his own.