Promise Keeper

Column: Why President Trump is right to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Donald Trump addresses the 2016 American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference at the Verizon Center March 21, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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December 6, 2017

Not only is President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy there one of the boldest moves of his presidency. It is one of the boldest moves any U.S. president has made since the beginning of the Oslo "peace process" in 1993. That process collapsed at Camp David in 2000 when Yasir Arafat rejected President Clinton's offer of a Palestinian state. And the process has been moribund ever since, despite multiple attempts to restart it.

That is why the warnings from Trump critics that his decision may wreck the peace process ring hollow. There is no peace process to wreck. The conflict is frozen. And the largest barriers to the resumption of negotiations are found not in U.S. or Israeli policy but in Palestinian autocracy, corruption, and incitement. Have the former Obama administration officials decrying Trump's announcement read a newspaper lately? From listening to them, you'd think it would be all roses and ponies in the Middle East but for Trump. In fact, the region is engulfed in war, terrorism, poverty, and despotism; Israel faces threats in the north and south; its sworn enemy, Iran, is growing in influence and reach; and the delegitimization of the Jewish State proceeds apace in international organizations and on college campuses. I forget how the Obama administration advanced the cause of peace by pressuring Israel while rewarding the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Maybe someone will remind me.

One of the reasons the Middle East persists in its decrepit condition is that it has been, for decades, a playground of magical thinking. Whether it is believing that poverty is the cause of terrorism or that the Ayatollah Khamenei is a good-faith partner, whether it is imagining that Assad will go just because we tell him to or that ISIS is akin to a terrorist "JV team," liberal internationalists have all too eagerly accepted an alternative picture of the Middle East that is much more flattering than the actuality. A similar form of doublethink is present in our discussions over Jerusalem. Every Israeli knows Jerusalem was, is, and will remain his capital. Every recent president has agreed with him. And the U.S. consensus has been bipartisan. The last four Democratic platforms have said the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. The Senate voted 90-0 only six months ago urging the embassy be moved to the ancient city. Were we to take seriously neither these platforms nor that vote? Was it all virtue-signaling, a bunch of empty gestures in the kabuki theater of U.S. diplomacy?

It is a sign of the disingenuousness of American foreign policy that it required someone from outside this system to behave as if words have meaning. President Trump has no background in or admiration for the routines, manners, and norms of the U.S. foreign service, especially that part of it which specializes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This has enabled him to state unequivocally the fact others would prefer to avoid: Jerusalem is Israel's capital, full stop. His transactional nature also brought him to this fateful recognition. In March 2016, at the AIPAC policy conference, he pledged that "We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem." His remarks today make clear his intention to fulfill that promise and to cement his support within the pro-Israel community.

I wonder about the journalists and flacks and politicians criticizing this literal reading of U.S. law as "disruptive." Have they not paid attention to this man? Donald Trump's purpose in office is to disrupt if not overturn the patterns of governance and ideological consensus that have dominated the U.S. capital for decades. In this sense his Jerusalem policy is his presidency in microcosm. He is acting on a common sense appraisal of the world and satisfying the wishes of his supporters without regard to global or domestic elite opinion. What Trump knows more than the art of the deal is the art of the bluff—and how to call one. By keeping his campaign promise today, he has called the bluff of everyone who thought the United States could have its cake and eat it too on the question of Israel's capital. And by moving our embassy to Jerusalem, the United States will acknowledge Israel's right to determine its own capital city. That is not something to condemn or fear. It is something to be proud of.