Terra Incognita: The two Fourths of July

Reports noted that this year was different than years past, in that more Israelis who live in Jewish communities in the West Bank were invited.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the July 4 celebration at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the July 4 celebration at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
The US Embassy in Tel Aviv hosted a Fourth of July party on July 3 to celebrate US Independence Day at the American ambassador’s residence in Herzliya Pituah. It was streamed live on Facebook and numerous photos were tweeted from its account, USEmbassyTelAviv.
“Our guests are enjoying premium American kosher beef,” they said. Hebrew accompanied the English. A band played as the sun went down as we overlooked the sea from the residence.
“Hatikva” and the “The Star-Spangled Banner” were sung. A who’s-who of Israeli society came, including Avigdor Liberman, Ya’acov Litzman, Ayelet Shaked and IDF soldiers. US Ambassador David Friedman spoke, as did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reports noted that this year was different than years past, in that more Israelis who live in Jewish communities in the West Bank were invited. This included representatives from the Samaria Regional Council and the mayors of Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim.
The US Embassy event in Herzliya is very much a Tel Aviv-style affair. It overlooks the water, it’s got the band and the feeling of wealth and snazziness that one part of Israel tries to show to the world. If anyone forgot that the embassy has not been moved to Jerusalem, despite US President Donald Trump’s promises, the Twitter account is called USEmbassyTelAviv.
In years past, former ambassador Dan Shapiro often tried to channel the US administration’s desire for peace into an Israeli context. In 2014 he spoke of a partnership between a Jewish, democratic state and its “greatest ally,” the United State of America.
“Like the pursuit of a more perfect union, this work is never finished. But while we are not required to complete the work, neither are we free to desist from it,” he paraphrased Jewish teaching. In 2015 he reminded listeners that “the pursuit of happiness is closely connected to things often singled out in Jewish text for pursuit: justice and peace.”
Friedman also touched on shared history and shared values this year. He spoke about a painting by IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, who was killed in the 2014 Gaza war, that hangs in the residence. He also mentioned that he was the first ambassador to accompany a US president to visit the Kotel.
Friedman also marveled at how members of the US military are devoted to peace through strength. “I thought about the fundamental principle of peace through strength and something my father would say every Shabbat morning,” the ambassador said, quoting Psalm 29: “The Lord will give strength unto his people and bless his nation with peace.”
The US hosts a second Fourth of July party at its consulate-general in Jerusalem, at the consul’s historic residence on Agron Street. Consul-General Donald Blome welcomed some 700 guests on July 12 to the stately grounds, where they feasted on shwarma, knafe, vine leaves, and Taybeh and Dancing Camel beer.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was present, as was US Special Representative for International negotiations Jason Greenblatt. Friedman also put in an appearance, along with representatives of major religious groups in Jerusalem – Franciscan Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Copts, and others.
After the US national anthem was sung, Blome spoke about the inspiration of living in a city of “three interlinked faiths” and how important it is to “work with Israelis and Palestinians on finding a new path toward peace.” He acknowledged that the political divisions in Jerusalem lead to cynicism and despair, but said US history teaches us the ability to overcome them.
The Jerusalem event is profoundly different from that of Tel Aviv. For starters, the Jerusalem event is coordinated with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which means that in years past it has been moved so as not to coincide with the Fourth of July, in respect of the fact that many of the invited guests are Muslim.
In many ways the Jerusalem Fourth of July is for Palestinians in the way the Tel Aviv one is for Israelis, with exceptions of course. It has a more Middle Eastern vibe, from the food to its timing and styles of dress. A man with a traditional Ottoman tea-serving costume and cauldron on his back even makes his rounds. Knafe is made on the premises.
The outfits worn by the religious figures, including the sprinkling of ultra-Orthodox Jews who are invited, have changed little since photos of the same groups in the 19th century. In fact, the current residence of the consul-general on Agron Street was built in 1868 by German Lutheran missionary Ferdinand Vester.
The US mission moved there in 1912, after having been located in the Old City since 1857. Where the Tel Aviv residence and party look to the future, the Jerusalem consulate is rooted in the past.
This division is temporal and political. It’s rooted in the partition plan of 1947, the “international” status Jerusalem was supposed to have, and the lack of recognized borders for the State of Israel.
If the US Embassy is ever moved to Jerusalem, it would be a bit awkward to have two fourth of July events in the city; but this is the bifurcation that represents the conflict in a nutshell. Only when a US Embassy exists for the Palestinians in Jerusalem will the Palestinians allow another US Embassy in Jerusalem for Israel.
Pro-Israel voices don’t seem to understand this fundamental aspect of the embassy issue. It’s not about Israel, it’s about “Palestine.” Only when there is Palestine can there fully be Israel. This is the ideology that guides the lack of recognition of Jerusalem. Palestinians hold all the cards in vetoing recognition of Jerusalem being recognized as Israel’s capital.
Cynicism should lead one to conclude, therefore, that there will never be recognition, because Palestinians who endlessly lose battles on the ground win the strategic conflict by simply saying “no.”
What about these miracles the US consul-general speaks of? On the one hand, you could point to the Red-Dead Sea water agreement signed on July 13 with the Palestinians and Jordanians. On the other hand, Gaza’s power plant is on the verge of shutting down every week, with no end in sight to the strip’s blockade and Hamas’ rule there.
You can believe in the fantasy of Muhammad Dahlan’s triumphal return that we keep hearing about, but walk us through the mechanics of how that happens. In Jenin, there have been two IDF raids in recent weeks, with riots and casualties. In Kalkilya, Netanyahu’s cabinet has frozen plans for the city to grow into Area C.
The conflict is being “managed,” but there’s no miracle in sight. When Americans speak of their founding fathers such as James Madison, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, it’s not even clear that their own diplomats or officials really internalize the quotes they read.
Find US diplomats who support Kurdish rights to a referendum and independence from Iraq, for instance. In Iraq you have colonial borders and a large minority that wants self-determination, the same kinds of rights that the US founders spoke of in 1776.
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another...” Well, not for the Kurds.
It seems also not for the Palestinians nor the Israelis, because if one follows the logic of the US Declaration of Independence, then Israel would have a right to Jerusalem and the Palestinians would have a state, rather than having to rely on the colonial-era decisions of 1947 that decided Jerusalem is not part of the State of Israel.
The US founding fathers took such bold steps, but in many ways the US administrations of the last 50 years have paid lip-service to such steps, while often telling other peoples in the world that what made sense in 1776 no longer makes sense. That’s why there are two Fourth of July parties, neither of which is on the Fourth of July.