A front-page story in this past Sunday’s New York Times – “Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders’ Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move” – appears to confirm that President Trump got it right when he announced U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
To be sure, the media largely hyperventilated and the UN sputtered, but where it counts, in the Arab world, acquiescence seems to be the order of the day. Despite all the dire predictions of violent reaction and disruption of the international order, the decision seems on its way to being accepted as a fait accompli.
In retrospect, the president’s move – which broke with half a century of American policy, defied perennial Arab demands, and risked a violent backlash – seems altogether logical and timely. The Palestinians could hardly support a renewed intifada and at the same time hold themselves out as partners for peace. And the devastation Israel would mete out in response was doubtless too horrific for them to contemplate. And of course they faced the likely consequence of a complete shutdown of U.S. aid.
Also, for months now most of the Arab world seemed preoccupied with the fears of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East and threats to individual states. Reports of covert Saudi outreach to Israel, due largely to the latter’s military might and technological prowess – important attributes to a country that is being directly challenged militarily by Iran and by a nascent Arab Spring and that is desperately trying to adjust to a looming systemic decline in oil sales – became increasingly prevalent.
And while Egypt has periodically and publicly expressed disagreements with Israel, the Egyptian government has moved ever closer politically to Israel, facing the same terrorist threats in the Sinai that Israel has long faced generally.
Both of these pivotal Arab countries had zero interest in tolerating a violent reaction to the U.S. Jerusalem announcement that could only have energized the terrorist enterprise.
The Times story revolves around the efforts of an Egyptian intelligence officer to persuade the most influential Egyptian talk show hosts to spread the word that strife with Israel is not in Egypt’s national interest and that the Palestinians should accept Ramallah as their capital.
He told them:
I am telling you what is the stance of Egypt’s national security apparatus and what it stands to benefit from in this matter of announcing Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, O.K.?.… We, like all our Arab brothers, are denouncing this matter…. After that, this thing will become a reality. Palestinians can’t resist and we don’t want to go to war. We have enough on our plate, as you know….”
The Times reported that the talk show hosts who were contacted followed through and the Egyptian news media subsequently spread the same word. In addition, according to the Times, “most other voices in the state-owned and pro-government news media across the Arab world were also strikingly muted, even unemotional, about the status of Jerusalem.”
The Times also noted that even before President Trump’s announcement, Saudi Arabia
had already quietly signaled its acquiescence or even tacit approval of the Israeli claim to Jerusalem. Days before Mr. Trump’s announcement, the Saudi crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, privately urged the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to accept a radically curtailed vision of statehood without a capital in East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian, Arab and European officials who have heard Mr. Abbas’s version of events.
At least on this point, President Trump could become the transformational figure he said he would be.