Trump’s Decision on Jerusalem: A View from a Skeptic
Last week President Donald Trump stunned the world by announcing that the U.S. now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In one fell swoop Trump has upended decades of complicated diplomacy pursued by Western policymakers in the Middle East, and created a totally new dynamic in the region.
The reaction to the recognition has so far been mixed. Jews from all over the world have rejoiced at the news of the announcement. The response of most countries has largely been negative. So far, only the Czech Republic has followed the U.S. lead and offered a qualified and guarded recognition. The U.S. media, particularly liberal media that is usually critical of much of what Donald Trump does, has largely disparaged this dramatic shift in U.S. policy. The received wisdom is that Trump’s initiative is reckless, unnecessarily provocative, destabilizing, and fraught with violent consequences. Predictably, Arab and Islamic countries have condemned Trump’s decision. In their view, it undermines and endangers all future prospects for peace. In the wake of Trump’s recognition, the leaders of Hamas have promised violent retaliations and called for the reversal of the decision. Many Arab states have seconded this call.
There is no doubt that the move by Donald Trump is unexpected and surprising. It creates a radically new situation in the Middle East. We tend to fear radical novelties, and for this reason alone, one can understand the negative reaction of Arabs and Muslims. However, it is worth remembering that polls and majorities do not necessarily determine what is and is not true. Therefore, objectivity behooves us to consider all possible aspects of this move and all effects that may follow from it, not just the negative ones.
So, what are some of the positive aspects of the recognition and what positive effects may predictably follow from it?
First and perhaps most importantly, Trump’s move recognizes the dignity of the Jewish people that has been all too often denied to them throughout the course of their tragic history. For many Jews, this fact alone makes the recognition perhaps the most significant and welcome event in their recent history. Also, Jerusalem is for many Jews perhaps the most important symbol of their statehood. They see the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as a logical step in the project that began with the creation of the Jewish state. It will be also a significant setback for those who deny the legitimacy of Israel’s existence.
The recognition sends a clear message to all Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, and to the entire world that the state of Israel is the most important ally of the United States and that American support for Israel is unwavering. The survival of the state of Israel is one of the most important priorities for the United States. Any attack that targets the new Israeli capital where the new American embassy will be located runs the risk of provoking a sobering response, not just from Israel but also from the United States.
The recognition also suggests that the U.S. will view all regional conflicts through the prism of the U.S. priority restated in a new way. The Middle East is a very volatile region and a major source of tensions in the modern world. At the present time the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia poses a serious threat to stability in the Middle East and, indeed, world peace. Stability in the Middle East is in the vital interests of Israel. The renewed and enhanced U.S. commitment to Israel amounts to the renewed and enhanced commitment of the United States to maintaining stability in the region and preventing any regional conflicts that may potentially grow into a worldwide conflagration.
Indeed, the immediate and largely emotional reaction to the recognition has been a wave of protest demonstrations. Although these displays of anger are regrettable, the region has hardly been a model of peace and stability prior to the recognition. These protests and demonstrations represent merely an immediate and emotional reaction, which was not entirely unanticipated, rather than a rational and constructive response to the new situation.
When things calm down, and eventually they will, those in the region—and first and foremost the Palestinians themselves—who now oppose the recognition will have to deal with new realities in a rational and constructive way. They will have to realize that the course pursued for decades has failed to bring peace. The new situation may offer new possibilities and those who do not see them now may see them later and renew the search for a peaceful solution together with Israel and the United States. In fact, President Trump has made a statement to this effect when he indicated his support for renewed and direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The novelty of the solution in the case of Jerusalem suggests that President Trump is capable of opening up new possibilities, rather than be a slave to tired truths. He can deliver.
The decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel can serve as the basis for guarded optimism. It opens new possibilities for resolving one of the most nagging problems that the U.S. and the world faces.