This time, Trump is right
Op-ed: The world’s 70-year refusal to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a foolish mistake, the result of diplomatic cowardice and neglect on the part of Israel’s governments. The argument that the US president's speech harms the peace process is baseless, as there is no peace process going on.
The world didn’t like US President Donald Trump’s speech. The Palestinians didn’t like it, leaders of Islamic states didn’t like it, Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t like it, leaders of friendly European countries didn’t like it and neither did left-wing speakers in Israel and veteran American peace negotiators. With all due respect to their concerns, this time they are wrong. Trump is right.
He is right about the case in question: The world’s 70-year refusal to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a foolish mistake, the result of diplomatic cowardice and neglect on the part of Israel’s governments. It’s time to fix that mistake. Moreover, there is no agreement in sight. The argument that the speech harms the peace process is baseless, as there is no peace process going on.
The 11-minute speech was worded carefully. Trump read it from the teleprompter, without any improvisations or verbal attacks. Sticking to the text did him good.
What needs to be done now is to put the speech into perspective and into proportion. It’s neither a third Palestinian Nakba nor a second UN Partition Plan for Israel. Like Trump said in his speech, it’s a recognition of reality. What was a de facto recognition is being turned into a de jure recognition. Within a few years, the US Embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Street to Jerusalem’s Hebron Road, and instead of seeing the sea from his window, the American ambassador will see the mountainous view of southwest Jerusalem.
The Palestinians won’t achieve a thing if they set fire to Jerusalem and the West Bank. The coordination between the Palestinian apparatuses and the IDF, which suffered during the Temple Mount conflict, has been restored in recent months. The Palestinian Authority didn’t halt the coordination on the eve of the speech, and it would be acting against its own interests if it halts it now. The Palestinians can use the speech in their favor and suggest that all countries follow in the Czech Republic’s footsteps and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the capital of Palestine.
The same applies to radical elements in Muslim countries, who are targeting American embassies. Before storming the nearby embassy, they should read the speech again.
There is one more point which should be mentioned in a bid to put the speech into proportion. The person who turned Jerusalem into Israel’s capital wasn’t Donald Trump. It was Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. And he did it despite the world’s criticism and against the advice of many of his colleagues.
The State of Israel doesn’t need the American president to recognize its capital, just like it doesn’t need the Palestinian Authority leader to recognize its Jewish nature. It stands on its own two feet. Trump won’t save us from our enemies and won’t save us from ourselves either. It’s our responsibility, and ours alone.
The importance of the words shouldn’t be overestimated. Trump decided to deliver his speech because he knew he had to sign the document extending the embassy’s activity in Tel Aviv by another six months. He knew he would be attacked for violating his election promise and decided, as usual, to show all his critics what he’s made of. It was his ego which played a key part in this move, not strategic calculations.
The speech’s impact won’t be reflected in words but in the way it is understood by the two sides. The Palestinians may turn to despair and violence; Israel’s right-wing parties may try to speed up the annexation. More settlement construction, more Knesset legislation, more regulations. Trump, they will believe, gave them in his speech a license to go wild.