Friday, December 8, 2017
Bret Stephens: Jerusalem Denial Complex
By Bret Stephens
If nothing else, Donald Trump’s decision on Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital shows how disenthralled his administration is with traditional pieties about the Middle East. It’s about time.
One piety is that “Mideast peace” is all but synonymous with Arab-Israeli peace. Seven years of upheaval, repression, terrorism, refugee crises and mass murder in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Syria have put paid to that notion.
Another piety is that only an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could reconcile the wider Arab world to the Jewish state. Yet relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh, Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Manama are flourishing as never before, even as the prospect of a Palestinian state is as remote as ever.
A third is that intensive mediation by the United States is essential to progress on the ground. Yet recent American involvement — whether at the Camp David summit in 2000 or John Kerry’s efforts in 2013 — has had mostly the opposite effect: diplomatic failure, followed by war.
Which brings us to Jerusalem, and the piety that pretending it isn’t what it is can be a formula for anything except continued self-delusion.
What Jerusalem is is the capital of Israel, both as the ancestral Jewish homeland and the modern nation-state. When Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit the country in 1974, he attended his state dinner in Jerusalem. It’s where President Anwar Sadat of Egypt spoke when he decided to make peace in 1977. It’s what Congress decided as a matter of law in 1995. When Barack Obama paid his own presidential visit to Israel in 2013, he too spent most of his time in Jerusalem.
So why maintain the fiction that Jerusalem isn’t the capital?
The original argument, from 1947, was that Jerusalem ought to be under international jurisdiction, in recognition of its religious importance. But Jews were not allowed to visit the Western Wall during the 19 years when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation. Yasir Arafat denied that Solomon’s Temple was even in Jerusalem, reflecting an increasingly common Palestinian denial of history.
Would Jews be allowed to visit Jewish sites, and would those sites be respected, if the city were redivided? Doubtful, considering Palestinian attacks on such sites, which is one of the reasons why it shouldn’t be.
The next argument is that any effort by Washington to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would set the proverbial Arab street on fire and perhaps lead to another intifada.
But this misapprehends the nature of the street, which has typically been a propaganda tool of Arab leaders to channel domestic discontent and manipulate foreign opinion. And it also misrepresents the nature of the last intifada, which was a meticulously preplanned event waiting for a convenient pretext (Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 walk on the Temple Mount) to look like a spontaneous one.
Finally there’s the view that recognition is like giving your college freshman a graduation gift: a premature reward for an Israeli government that hasn’t yet done what’s needed to make a Palestinian state possible.
But this also gets a few things wrong. It will have no effect on whether or how a Palestinian state comes into being, whatever the current histrionics in Ramallah. And it’s not much of a bargaining chip, since most Israelis couldn’t care less where the embassy is ultimately located.
Then again, recognition does several genuinely useful things.
It belatedly aligns American words with deeds. It aligns word as well as deed with reality. And it aligns the United States with the country toward which we are constantly professing friendship even as we have spent seven decades stinting it of the most basic form of recognition.
Recognition also tells the Palestinians that they can no longer hold other parties hostage to their demands. East Jerusalem could have been the capital of a sovereign Palestinian state 17 years ago, if Arafat had simply accepted the terms at Camp David. He didn’t because he thought he could dictate terms to stronger powers. Nations pay a price for the foolhardiness of their leaders, as the Kurds recently found out.
Peace and a Palestinian state will come when Palestinians aspire to create a Middle Eastern Costa Rica — pacifist, progressive, neighborly and democratic — rather than another Yemen: by turns autocratic, anarchic, fanatical and tragic.
For the international community, that means helping Palestinians take steps to dismantle their current klepto-theocracy, rather than fueling a culture of perpetual grievance against Israel. Mahmoud Abbas is now approaching the 13th anniversary of his elected four-year term. Someone should point this out.
Hamas has run Gaza for a decade, during which it has spent more time building rockets and terror tunnels than hotels or hospitals. Someone should point this out, too. It is indicative of the disastrous political choices that help explain 70 years of Palestinian failure.
Meantime, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. For those who have lived in denial, it must be some sort of shock.
Posted by Mladen Andrijasevic at 11:50 PM