Americans have issues with Israel. Evangelical Christians, the Religious Right, love Israel. Jesus was born there. Israel is a holy place, and there’s that long-standing but somewhat obscure Christian doctrine of the Conversion of the Jews – one day they’ll come around, or grow up, and accept Jesus and all the rest – in the End Times – or else they’ll all go to hell. Until then, however, Israel is a wonderful nation, a brave nation facing down all those damned Muslims – our one and only real ally in the Middle East. That’s the Republican position. Obama should have treated Israel better. Netanyahu would have been fine with John McCain. Netanyahu practically campaigned for Mitt Romney. Obama cut that deal with Iran to suspend Iran’s scary nuclear weapons program – but that was for only ten years. Iran will one day nuke Israel – in ten years of course. Netanyahu should have been our president – but Donald Trump will do for now. His son-in-law is Jewish, and his daughter converted. Trump gets it.
But it’s not that simple. The white nationalists marching in Charlottesville, with their torches and Confederate (and Nazi) flags, were shouting “Jews will not replace us” – and that had a bit to do with Trump’s guy Steve Bannon. That had to do with his Breitbart News running endless items about the centuries-old cabal of Jewish bankers who really run the world and screw everyone else, and who really hate white Christians. Those guys are greedy hook-nosed degenerates. That’s Protocols of the Elders of Zion stuff – but that’s all-American too. Henry Ford printed tens of thousands of copies of that odd book so everyone would know about those damned Jews, and Henry Ford is an American hero. He gave America wheels. And he hated Jews.
That confuses matters. The white nationalists marching on Charlottesville seem to be fine with Israel, that brave little nation fighting all those Muslim degenerates over there, but they seem to hate Jews, those greedy hook-nosed degenerates who secretly control the world. The white nationalists are going to have to work that out, but nothing is easy.
Israel wasn’t easy from the start. The United States was instrumental in the creation of Israel. In 1947, the British government withdrew from its commitment to the Mandate of Palestine. They saw no way to arrive at a solution as to who should run the place that was acceptable to both Arabs and Jews. So the newly created United Nations – created in San Francisco and later headquartered in New York – approved the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947 – divide Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city administered by the UN, to avoid conflict over its status. That was the solution. On May 14, 1948, the day before the end of the British Mandate, the Jewish Agency proclaimed independence, naming the country Israel, but then things got sticky:
Margaret Truman said it was the most difficult decision Harry Truman ever faced as president. Should he support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, or shouldn’t he?
Presidential advisers and the government were split. Clark Clifford, Truman’s legal counsel, strongly favored recognition. The Jews deserved a sanctuary after the horror of the Holocaust, Clifford argued. Besides, the new state would likely come to pass whether Truman urged it or not.
But the Department of State, including the highly respected Secretary of State, George Marshall, advised against it, as did much of his cabinet. Truman greatly admired Marshall and had said that “there wasn’t a decoration big enough” to honor Marshall’s leadership during World War II. At a White House meeting on May 12, 1948, Marshall objected to quick US recognition of a Jewish homeland. It would look as if Truman was angling for Jewish votes, he said, and might endanger access to Arab oil. He went so far as to say that if Truman went ahead and recognized the new state, then Marshall would vote against him in the coming election.
Truman made his own decision. Two days later, May 14, 1948 Israel was born at the stroke of midnight, Jerusalem time. The United States announced its recognition of the new nation only 11 minutes later.
And no one has been happy since. Israel fights daily for its very existence. The Palestinians want them gone. A tiny minority on each side still thinks they can get along with the other side – just establish an actual Palestinian state with real borders and work out the details of the original Mandate of Palestine, which posited the idea of something like coexistence.
How hard can that be? But the current Israeli government, building settlements in any disputed lands and saying, look, that’s Israel now, is not helping much. The angry factions of the Palestinians, now and then lobbing rockets into Israel and occasionally blowing up a bus, are not making things easier either. And there’s the matter of Jerusalem, originally designated an international city administered by the UN and for good reason:
According to the Bible, King David conquered the city from the Jebusites and established it as the capital of the united kingdom of Israel, and his son, King Solomon, commissioned the building of the First Temple. These foundational events, straddling the dawn of the 1st millennium BCE, assumed central symbolic importance for the Jewish people. The sobriquet of holy city was probably attached to Jerusalem in post-exilic times.
But it’s not theirs alone:
The holiness of Jerusalem in Christianity was reinforced by the New Testament account of Jesus’s crucifixion there. In Sunni Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. In Islamic tradition it became the first qibla, the focal point for Muslim prayer and Muhammad made his Night Journey there ten years later, ascending to heaven where he speaks to God, according to the Quran. As a result, despite having an area of only 0.9 square kilometers, the Old City is home to many sites of seminal religious importance, among them the Temple Mount with its Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
All three religions have a claim on the place, but for this:
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, West Jerusalem was among the areas captured and later annexed by Israel while East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was captured and later annexed by Jordan. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequently annexed it into Jerusalem, together with additional surrounding territory. One of Israel’s Basic Laws, the 1980 Jerusalem Law, refers to Jerusalem as the country’s undivided capital. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister and President, and the Supreme Court.
But not so fast:
The international community rejected the annexation as illegal and treats East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. Israel has a stronger claim to sovereignty over West Jerusalem. The international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the city hosts no foreign embassies.
But that’s about to change:
President Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American Embassy there, upending nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and potentially destroying his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr. Trump’s decision, a high-risk foray into the thicket of the Middle East, was driven not by diplomatic calculations but by a campaign promise. He appealed to evangelicals and ardently pro-Israel American Jews in 2016 by vowing to move the embassy, and advisers said on Tuesday he was determined to make good on his word.
But the president, faced with a deadline of this past Monday to make that decision, still plans to sign a national security waiver to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for an additional six months, even as he set in motion a plan to move it to Jerusalem. Officials said the process would take several years.
Even so, the Jesus people will be happy, and making them happy seems to be the whole point of this, but Trump has some explaining to do:
Mr. Trump is to announce his formal recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in a formal speech at the White House on Wednesday, when he will become the first American president to take that step since the founding of Israel in 1948.
Mr. Trump spent Tuesday morning explaining the policy change in telephone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel; Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president; and to Arab leaders who warned him that it would disrupt the peace process, perhaps fatally, and could unleash a new wave of violence across the region.
Trump may not have considered that:
“Moving the U.S. embassy is a dangerous step that provokes the feelings of Muslims around the world,” King Salman of Saudi Arabia told Mr. Trump in their call, according to Saudi state television.
Late on Tuesday, Palestinian national and Islamic groups issued a joint statement calling for three days of “popular anger” to protest Mr. Trump’s move, beginning on Wednesday throughout the Palestinian territories and in demonstrations at United States embassies and consulates around the world.
Fearing attacks, the American consulate in Jerusalem barred employees and family members from going to the Old City or the West Bank, while the State Department urged embassies around the world to tighten their security.
That’s because Trump chose sides:
West Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government, but the Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and most of the world considers it occupied territory. Jerusalem’s Old City has the third-holiest mosque in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism, making the city’s status a sensitive issue for Muslims and Jews worldwide alike.
Mr. Trump’s decision drew applause from some in Israel and the United States, even if Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli government were studiously silent in advance of the president’s speech.
Netanyahu is no fool. Gloating would trigger an immediate Palestinian attack, but there was this:
Mr. Trump, officials said, would make clear that the United States is not taking a position on whether, or how, Jerusalem is divided between Israel and the Palestinians. He will also not take a position on a disputed area of the Old City, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, which has been a flash point for tensions.
In short, this is a minor administrative matter, so everyone should calm down, but this isn’t a minor administrative matter:
Even with those caveats, Mr. Trump’s decision seems likely to disrupt, if not dissolve, the peace effort. Administration officials said they expected the Palestinians to walk away from the process, at least for now. The White House is girding itself for an eruption of violence, coordinating plans with several agencies to protect American citizens abroad.
“You can finesse this all you want, but Jerusalem doesn’t allow for any finesse,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel. “They can try to limit the damage all they want, but they won’t be able to, because Jerusalem is such a hot-button issue.”
Perhaps that doesn’t matter:
Mr. Trump’s pledge was extremely popular with evangelicals and pro-Israel backers, including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who donated $25 million to a political action committee supporting Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Adelson expressed anger when Mr. Trump signed the waiver in June to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.
Adelson, now, finally has a return on his giant but indirect donation to Trump’s campaign, and Trump did what he could:
Former diplomats have said that the United States could relocate the embassy simply by hanging a new sign outside the American consulate in Jerusalem. White House officials, however, said the administration’s lawyers concluded that would not be in compliance with a 1995 law, under which Congress instructed the president to move the embassy and required him to sign a waiver every six months to delay it.
Every other president since 1995 kept signing those waivers. They didn’t want to start a holy war. Trump may get one of those:
King Abdullah II of Jordan strongly cautioned against the move “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” according to a statement from the royal palace in Amman. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the custodian of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
“King Abdullah stressed that the adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians,” the statement said.
Few details of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abbas were released, but a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization said the call had given shape to the worst fears of Palestinians.
“It’s very serious,” said the PLO spokesman, Xavier Abu Eid. “Things look very bad.” The Palestinian news agency, WAFA, quoted Mr. Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as saying that Mr. Abbas will continue his contacts with world leaders to prevent such “unacceptable action.”
And of course this didn’t work:
Mr. Trump, officials said, assured Mr. Abbas that the administration would protect Palestinian interests in any peace negotiation with Israel. He also invited the Palestinian leader to visit him in Washington for further consultations. Mr. Abbas said he could not come for a while.
That’s not surprising, nor is this:
Turkey’s president has warned it could sever ties with Israel if the US recognizes Jerusalem as its capital. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said such a move would cross a “red line” for Muslims.
And there’s this:
“For 70 years, the U.S. has given Israel tacit approval to steal Palestinian land, build illegal Jewish settlements, and deny Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere their rights,” said Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson. “Trump’s decision takes these ongoing policies to the next level and is reckless, irresponsible, and endangers the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.”
“Jerusalem is a symbol of holiness and hope for many people of many religions the world over,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, the deputy director of JVP. “We want there to be a shared and peaceful Jerusalem.”
And there’s this:
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called the decision “both morally wrong and politically dangerous.”
“Not only is Donald Trump deliberately insulting the Palestinian people, but also Arabs and Muslims around the world. In doing so, he is relinquishing what little credibility the United States had left in a region that is already rife with conflict and division,” Munayyer said. “The United States has attempted to shepherd the so-called ‘peace process’ on the basis that it can play the role of mediator but by clearly adopting an Israeli position as its own, it makes clear it is not even pretending anymore.”
And there’s this:
Saudi Arabia said on Monday any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem before a final settlement is reached in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would hurt the peace process and heighten regional tensions.
“Any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,” Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said in a statement.
“The kingdom’s policy – has been – and remains in support of the Palestinian people, and this has been communicated to the U.S. administration.”
That’s dire, and there’s Shibley Telhami, a fellow at Brookings’ Center for Middle East Policy, who sees this:
The White House is probably betting that, despite the noises in the Arab world against such a move, their key allies in Saudi Arabia and Egypt will limit their opposition – already publicly voiced – to lip service, as they are all interested in protecting relations with Trump over more urgent issues, such as fighting militancy and confronting Iran. It’s also betting that the Arab and Muslim public outcry will be limited, both because of efforts by their governments to contain dissent, and because administration officials may have swallowed the arguments that Arabs no longer care about Palestine, or even Jerusalem.
All of this is doubtful, but let’s consider for a moment the possibility that the administration’s assessment that costs will be limited is accurate. No one, not even President Donald Trump, is arguing that such a move would be helpful to American Middle East policy.
Telhami cannot see why Trump is doing this at all:
Trump certainly doesn’t need to solidify his pro-Israel credentials; three of his key Middle East advisers are known to be sympathetic with the Israeli right. More importantly, the American public, including his Republican core, already thinks his policy is pro-Israel. A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll (among a national sample of 2,000 American adults, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough November 1-6 and released at the Brookings Institution last Friday) found that 59 percent of Americans said they preferred that Trump lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, said he is in fact leaning toward Israel. Our poll also shows that 63 percent of all Americans oppose moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 percent of Republicans.
How about the Evangelical Christians whose support has been critical for Trump, and who are known to support declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. embassy there? Two-thirds of Evangelicals say Trump’s policy is already leaning toward Israel—a proportion that’s even higher than that of the rest of the population. Even on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the support is hardly overwhelming: While 53 percent of Evangelicals support the move, 40 percent oppose it.
Evangelical leaders undoubtedly bring this issue up with the president, but none will abandon him for not making the declaration. Trump has been the president who has arguably given the Evangelical right more than any other president in history has: from favorable key appointments such as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to highly favorable policies toward religious schools.
This, then, makes no sense at all, politically , and this makes even less sense diplomatically:
The administration’s assumptions about the limited costs of the move are based on little more than a leap of faith. In fact, the move would go against the very priorities that the administration has set for itself in the Middle East: fighting Islamist militancy and confronting Iranian influence. Jerusalem is the perfect issue for Iran and Islamist militants to use to mobilize support against the United States and those who endorse its policies.
No good will come of this:
Many Arabs are focused on their immediate tragedies; others may have a diminished connection to Palestine, or even to Jerusalem. But as the region has grown deeply divided, Jerusalem has remained a central symbol that transcends the divide. It remains a mobilizing issue even in a polarized environment: Even if Arabs don’t go out into the streets in consequential numbers, a declaration will play into the hands of those plotting in the basement.
Now add this:
King Abdullah, an American ally, has been among the first to make clear in his warnings about the impact of the move on his society; since then many have added their warnings including Turkish and French leaders, among others. Then, there is the direct impact on the Palestinians. The move could force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to walk away, at least initially, from talks. But even if Trump could get Abbas to swallow the move, the leverage Abbas would expend to keep any degree of legitimacy among Palestinians will inevitably come at the expense of his ability to convince the Palestinians to swallow any deal Trump will offer – a nearly impossible task in the first place.
It seems that Donald Trump has ruined everything for everybody. He’ll move our embassy to Jerusalem. The international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the city hosts no foreign embassies, but now it will host ours. Expect sustained coordinated attacks on US assets and troops and civilians around the world, but Sheldon Adelson and the evangelicals will be happy. In 1948, Harry Truman had been right to worry about Israel. It’s no different now.