U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been met with anger, especially in the Arab world. Media outlets, organizations, and individuals have competed with one another in misrepresenting the crux of his announcement made in a landmark speech at the White House on Wednesday.
Contrary to what one might take away from the coverage of the event over the past 48 hours, President Trump didn’t reinvent the wheel. Rather, he honored a bipartisan commitment made over 20 years ago, finally aligning U.S. policy with reality.
Since the early days of the state, Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel. It is in Jerusalem where the Knesset meets, where the prime minister resides, and where the supreme court is located. By any measure of substance, Jerusalem is obviously Israel’s capital.
Joshua S. Block, The Israel Project’s President and CEO, praised President Trump’s decision in a press release on Wednesday. “The recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel – the nation state of the Jewish people – is a welcome, long overdue acknowledgment of historic, religious and political realities, that enjoys broad bipartisan support across political lines in both the United States and Israel,” Block stated.
He added: “The Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem spans an unbroken chain of more than two millennia and this U.S. administration’s declaration is again an affirmation of this profound bond, acknowledged by Democratic and Republican administrations and successive congresses that dates back decades.”
Block’s sentiment was echoed by New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Welcoming the President’s decision, Engel noted: “I support the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and to move the U.S. embassy there. This decision is long overdue and helps correct a decades-long indignity.”
The biased coverage of President Trump’s thoughtful and carefully-constructed speech spreads a false narrative and risks inflaming violence. And from that stems several misconceptions about what he said and didn’t say.
• The State of Israel, like all other nations in the world, has the right to choose its own capital, unless you apply double-standards to the only Jew among nations.
Trump: “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this is a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”
• The President is reflecting the reality on the ground by recognizing that Jerusalem is where Israel’s capital is located, as indeed it has been since 1950.
Trump: “Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality.”
“Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the Prime Minister and the President. It is the headquarters of many government ministries. For decades, visiting American presidents, secretaries of state, and military leaders have met their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem, as I did on my trip to Israel earlier this year.”
• For over 20 years, the endeavor to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been a bipartisan effort, supported by both Democrats and Republicans. The President is simply complying with the law.
Trump: “In 1995, Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize that that city — and so importantly — is Israel’s capital. This act passed Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority and was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago.”
The announcement drew support from an unlike pair, highlighting again the profoundly bipartisan nature of the decision. Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R – Fla.) and Democrat Ted Deutch (D – Fla.) often disagree politically. But the two Floridians issued a joint statement welcoming Trump’s move.
Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen: “Today’s decision does not preclude our shared goal of two states for two peoples to be negotiated between the parties themselves,” the Republican and Democratic lawmaker said in their joint statement, adopting the Trump administration’s explanation of the move.”
• The relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem could inject new life into the peace process, which has been in deadlock for many years. The President’s decision makes clear to Israel’s enemies that Israel is here to stay and that the security of the Jewish state is non-negotiable for Washington. The Palestinians will have to realize that unilateralism will no longer be rewarded, and the only viable path forward is genuine peace negotiations.
Trump: “For over 20 years…Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace…After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
• Israel reunified Jerusalem in 1967 and removed barriers within Jerusalem, reunited the city, and allowed free movement and worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians. That reversed previous policies in which Jerusalem was closed to all Israelis and Jews, and in which Jewish holy sites were desecrated and destroyed.
Trump: “Over the past seven decades, the Israeli people have built a country where Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience and according to their beliefs.”
“I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.”
It is also important to understand that the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has no impact on any negotiation or final status with the Palestinians, nor is it a departure from the U.S.’ commitment to help negotiate two states for two people.
• The President’s announcement was not a declaration of death of the two-state solution. On the contrary, he explicitly said that he hopes the announcement will inject new momentum into the stalled peace process.
Trump: “The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement. Without question, Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in those talks. The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.”
• The President noted clearly in his speech that the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to relocate the embassy is not a position on the final status of Jerusalem, which remains for the parties on the ground to negotiate. His statement was not a recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim for their future capital.
Trump: “We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”
The threats of violence and terror in the face of this decision speaks volumes about Israel’s so-called ‘partner for peace’. The United States, and our European allies, must expect more from the Palestinian leadership, if a true peace is to ever be achieved.
“For too long, the embassy relocation has been delayed by threats of violence from leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Arab states”, Joshua S. Block concluded, adding that “Incitement comes from the PA, which inspires terrorism and pays for murder. American Jewish leaders and diplomats must continue to make clear that U.S. policy will not be held captive to blackmail.”
[Photo: Miriam Alster / Flash90 ]