Why the outcry over Jerusalem?
Op-ed: Overreacting on the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not going to help and only serves to encourage and embolden Islamic radicals and their apologists in the West, which in turn entrenches the extreme Israeli Right. These two factors combined are the real obstacles to peace.
Rather than being lambasted, US President Donald Trump should be applauded for taking the brave step to recognize officially Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and committing to relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This historic acknowledgement by the Trump administration recognizes Jerusalem’s just and rightful position as the centerpiece of the Jewish state.
US officials have been keen to quash claims that the designation would in any way prejudice final-status negotiations as part of any future peace deal. There is little reason why it should, so I say to my friends in the Arab world that they should not lose hope. It’s clear that there is still room for negotiations, and no reason why a settlement—one that is palatable for both sides—cannot be reached. As Ambassador Ron Dermer said following the announcement, “The US did not say they were deciding the boundaries of Jerusalem,” and so a comprehensive peace deal is still very much alive.
Unfortunately, the international community does not see it this way. The reaction has moved from plain critical to outrage. Leaders from London to Montevideo, from the UN to the Vatican are falling over themselves to condemn President Trump. The reaction is both wrong-headed, misguided and, indeed, dangerous.
You can’t help wondering why it is that the Jewish state is singled out in this way, given the ongoing atrocities in countries like Syria and Myanmar that have not received the same reaction. What other country on earth has its own choice of capital city questioned? What moral right does any other country have to dictate to Israel where it chooses its Capital? The outrageous thing about this whole episode is that it is so controversial in the first place.
While it cannot be denied that the announcement represents a different approach by the US and a break with its long-time policy of ambiguity on its status, Jerusalem is and always has been the capital of the Jewish state. President Trump’s announcement, in this context, is little more than a belated acknowledgement of historical fact. Jerusalem is after all the designated seat of the Israeli government, the Prime Minister’s Office and the legislature. It is a pure charade to pretend otherwise. Every person travelling to Israel, from a casual tourist to a head of state is left in no doubt where Israel’s capital lies.
Much of the focus from opponents to the move has been on the obstacles it will present the US in its efforts to broker peace, which President Trump has described as the “ultimate deal.” In reality, the Palestinian attitude to the peace process has long been entrenched, with the Palestinian leadership preferring to embark on unilateral action and diplomatic terrorism at international institutions, such as the UN, the International Criminal Court and UNESCO, instead of returning to the negotiating table with Israel.
We all understand the pain felt by ordinary Palestinians, but the Palestinian leadership really only has itself to blame for its current predicament. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ warning of the “dangerous consequences” for lasting peace as a result of the US action speaks of a cynical attempt, given legitimacy by the over-blown outcry of world leaders, to inflame tensions and justify further diplomatic and military terror.
US allies roundly criticized the policy deviation, with the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May declaring it “unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.” French President Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, condemned it as a move that “(went) against international law and all the resolutions of the UN Security Council”. Perhaps to be expected, Turkey also chipped into the furor, with President Tayyip Erdogan likening the announcement to “throwing the region into a ring of fire.”
The vehemence of the collective response from world leaders demonstrates yet again that where Israel is involved, the international community always seems to revel in its condemnation and faux-outrage. This is clear hypocrisy, the likes of which we have seen repeated countless times at the UN Security Council, as the same standards are not applied to Western countries, much less more unsavory regimes around the world. Such an outcry was simply not seen on the same scale when Assad unleashed Chemical Weapons against his own people in Syria and following the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingyas, which continues to rage on.
Recognizing Jerusalem is an acknowledgement of reality. Peace will only be achieved by furthering the dialogue between Israel and Sunni Arab states with a shared interest in helping to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Overreacting on Jerusalem is not going to help and only serves to encourage and embolden Islamic radicals and their apologists in the West, which in turn entrenches the extreme Israeli right. These, in combination, are the real obstacles to peace.
Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress.