Trump’s peace deal shows that moving US Embassy to Jerusalem was game-changer
Watching the historic agreement normalizing relations between Israel and two Arab states at the White House — an event neither I nor anyone else who has watched the Middle East closely for the past half-century ever really thought would happen — I had to acknowledge to myself how wrong I had been.
Back in 2018, when Team Trump announced it was going to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, I didn’t think it was all that big a deal — even though I was and remain a resolute and unconditional supporter of the Jewish state.
I thought it was a nice gesture that acknowledged an undeniable reality, which is that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem. Moreover, the move was fully in keeping with the 1995 law that mandated the embassy move by 1999 — a law the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations had “suspended” every six months since 1999 on the largely spurious grounds that doing so would pose a danger to our security.
But the move didn’t mean much beyond that, I thought.
Oh, I was wrong — though I’m happy to say I was right in dismissing the doom-and-gloom warnings of the foreign-policy establishment about how destabilizing and dangerous it would be for the United States to make the move.
The idea that the Middle East would turn against Washington and erupt in horrendous street violence was based, I thought, on a dated understanding of the relationship between the Arab world and the Palestinians. Where once the Palestinian cause was a binding glue of pan-Arab nationalism, time and politics had marched on and left the sclerotic, unchanging, uncreative and disempowered Palestinians behind.
Israel’s working relationships behind the scenes with once-key benefactors of the Palestinians — the Saudis in particular — made me think there would be no sponsorship of those street riots by regional powers. That proved to be correct.
Where I was wrong, and where I think many people are wrong even among those who are giving the Trump administration proper credit for its diplomatic triumph, is in failing to grasp the world-historic significance of the embassy move in 2018.
When the world’s most powerful country recognized Israel’s sovereign control over Jerusalem, it finally and formally moved past the now-fanciful notion, dating back to 1947, that the city ought to be governed by some transnational entity.
The international status of Jerusalem was part of the original UN design of the partition of the British Mandate intended to create homelands for the Jews and for Palestinian Arabs. The Jews said yes. The Arabs said no and launched a war to destroy the Jews.
Great plan, no?
Anyway, because of the particular circumstances governing Israel’s inception as a nation, its enemies have comforted themselves with the idea that it had been externally imposed on the region and was, therefore, essentially temporary.
What had been given to the Jews by the United Nations could be taken away. Israel hadn’t been there before. It could go away again.
The idea of Israel’s potential impermanence is why Palestinians still cling to the notion that they will somehow be able to push the Jews into the sea and control the entire area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. It is why Iranian leaders, from ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to head mullah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, love to trumpet the idea that Israel will “disappear.”
And it is why the blanket resistance in the Arab world to the idea that Israel had dominion over Jerusalem — first in the western part of the city and then, after its victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the entirety of it — was so total.
For Jerusalem is, unquestionably, permanent. It is as permanent as — may one dare say it — the Jewish people ourselves. Its continuous existence from time immemorial is the signature fact of the Middle East.
To accept Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is therefore to accept Israel’s permanence. And this was something even the United States, Israel’s best (and, at times, only) friend in the world, wasn’t willing to do formally.
And if it wasn’t willing, how could Arab states take the final step to recognize Israel’s existence? If America didn’t fully embrace Israel’s permanence, how could they?
The embassy move was therefore a huge change in what you might call “geopolitical psychology.”
It meant Israel was here to stay forever, and the time had come for Arab nations that want to move forward into the 21st century to accept its existence.
Never have I been happier to be wrong.
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