Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the capital of the modern State of Israel. In the three millennia since King David declared Jerusalem his capital, no people other than the Jews, no empire, and no state other than Israel has claimed Jerusalem as its capital. To be sure, Jerusalem has been conquered many times, and Jews have been expelled on more than one occasion, but in all of that history, Jerusalem has been divided only once: During the nineteen years of illegal Jordanian occupation, when Jordan rendered the parts of the city it controlled Judenrein, gutted synagogues, and used ancient Jewish tombstones as cobblestones for streets and material for latrines. During that dark period, the city’s walls were used to rain down mortars and sniper fire on Jewish civilians. That horror ended when Israel liberated the Old City and the eastern neighborhoods, and restored Jerusalem to its rightful unified state, in 1967.
It is outrageous and absurd that UNESCO has “voted” to dejudaize our ancient birthright—as grotesque and as anti-Semitic as denying the Holocaust. It is appalling and unjust for the world to pretend that the Israeli capital is elsewhere, for U.S. passports to refuse to acknowledge that Jerusalem is even in Israel, and for the international community to toss around plans to divide the ancient Jewish capital. There is no question that the American embassy in Israel belongs in Jerusalem, and we trust President Trump to fulfill his campaign promise—in accordance with a twenty-year-old American law—to move it there.
But we are hesitant to join those of Israel’s friends, including many of our closest political allies, now clamoring for the President to make the move immediately.
Because things worth doing are worth doing right.
Because everything associated with Israel’s existence takes place under the threat of Arab violence.
Because the election of Donald Trump and the codification of the Republicans’ new Israel policy platform, have ushered us into the earliest days of a new paradigm—one based in reality, and consequently one that favors Israel. No longer is moving the embassy a mere symbolic act set against the backdrop of an “inevitable” PLO state in Judea and Samaria. The timing and placement for the embassy move are now parts of a coherent reassessment of American policy in the Middle East.
President Trump has repeatedly promised a foreign policy that puts America first. The embassy move, like the solution to the “Palestine refugee” crisis (to adopt the UN’s official terminology), should proceed within that context. An America-first policy would invert most of what we have seen over the past eight years. Where President Obama conspicuously distanced himself from our traditional allies in the region and attempted to partner instead with the radical Islamists running Shiite Iran and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, President Trump has announced his intentions to strengthen our allies and turn the fight toward the Islamists.
As our new President has already demonstrated, strengthening our alliances means eliminating daylight between the U.S. and Israel. Contrary to President Obama’s belief that distancing the U.S. from Israel would defuse radical opposition to the U.S., the strength of the U.S./Israel relationship broadcasts a message about America around the globe. Though it may seem counterintuitive, even anti-Israel allies like Saudi Arabia take comfort in knowing that the U.S. stands strong with its friends—and there is no better benchmark for U.S. resolve than the strength of its relationship with Israel. It surprised no one that the President who distanced himself from Israel also abandoned Egypt’s pro-American Mubarak, toppled Libya’s slowly reforming Qaddafi, allowed the burgeoning Iranian opposition to languish, and had his red-line bluff called to tragic effect in Syria.
Galvanizing the U.S./Israel bond is thus critical to an America-first Middle East policy, but it is not sufficient. The U.S. should also strengthen Egypt’s security conscious, anti-Islamist President Al-Sisi, preserve the security of King Abdullah’s rule in Jordan, encourage the reformist instincts of King Salman in Saudi Arabia, and formalize our relationship with the Kurds. Perhaps most importantly, we should encourage our regional allies to work together more closely—and in particular, nudge the nascent relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia out of the shadows towards full, mutual recognition.
An America-first policy can strengthen Israel without destabilizing our Arab allies. Crafting such a policy requires strategic thought and foresight, rather than merely the plucking of low-hanging fruit. Moves of considerable symbolic value in the old paradigm might have negative strategic consequences in the new one.
When the U.S. was part of the global plan to hold Judea and Samaria in limbo for a new Arab state, any marker that Israel could lay to reinforce its claim on Jerusalem had value. As the U.S. prepares to concede that the Oslo Accords have failed and to abandon its adherence to that plan, the symbolic marker may become inverted. Jerusalem must never again be divided. Yet already there are voices suggesting that moving the U.S. embassy to “West Jerusalem”—that is, the part of the city that Israel controlled prior to 1967—would reinforce the Arab claim on the formerly Jordanian-occupied “East Jerusalem.” If that inference works its way into perception and policy, the embassy move could do more harm than good—both to Israel and to the U.S.
Yes, the embassy belongs in Jerusalem, but as long as the division of Jerusalem remains a matter of discourse and debate, moving the embassy will not achieve what Israel needs it to achieve. Far more important than gaining recognition for part of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is the burial of a plan launched as the PLO’s “Phased Plan for Israel’s Destruction” in 1974, and subsequently incorporated into the Oslo “peace process.” The plan, as first articulated, was simple: In the first phase, the PLO sought to “liberate” any land it could, using any means at its disposal. In the second phase, it would use that land to launch a war against Israel. In the third phase, it would draw the Arab states into an all-out war for Israel’s destruction. The PA’s actions since its creation under the Oslo Accords suggest strongly that the PLO’s phased plan remains operative. To this day, the PA depicts its goal in image, word and in deed as replacing the entirety of the State of Israel with a State of Palestine. Israel’s long-term security and stability hinges on rendering this plan forever inoperative; in contemporary parlance, it means ending discussions about a “Two-State Solution.” An embassy move consistent with the creation of a new Arab State in Judea and Samaria is unlikely to improve the security picture; even a move now to the eastern, formerly Jordan-occupied area of Jerusalem simply allows the Phased Plan to adapt.
As U.S. policy approaches the Republican platform’s recognition that Israel liberated—not occupied— Judea and Samaria in 1967, responsibility for determining how much of those territories to incorporate finally and fully into the State of Israel will fall to Israel. Israel may reach that determination unilaterally, or it may do so through negotiations with responsible Arab actors, but in either case, thanks to the election of Donald Trump, it is now all but a foregone conclusion that the U.S. embassy will move to Jerusalem. The U.S. and Israel can apply their own criteria to choose a specific embassy location without worrying about the world’s need to appease the bus bombers, civilian stabbers, and truck-ramming monsters that form the foreign policy apparatus of Oslo’s ill-conceived Palestinian Authority – the lipstick on the PLO pig.
Given the realities of life on the ground in the Middle East, any change in U.S. policy may well trigger violence. But we have seen time and again that best and only way to curb violence is through strength; Oslo and the so-called “Two-State Solution” have taught that surrendering to the threat of violence yields only increased violence. Yet though violence may be inevitable, appropriate preparatory and preemptory steps can limit its scope, its duration, and its lethality. One key element of such preparation is understanding that every announcement will trigger another round of violence—and that the magnitude of the violence depends only minimally on the significance of the announcement. That understanding recommends minimizing the number of new announcements—and against incremental policy creep. Moving the embassy wounds the “Two State Solution” monster and makes it very dangerous indeed. Far better to kill it outright.
The wisest course of action (and the one we surmise is taking shape) is for President Trump and his team to devise a strategic policy that is based on reality, not myth; a strategy that puts America first, strengthens Israel, and works with all of our regional allies to minimize the violence. The 2016 GOP Platform provides the outlines for just such a policy:
The U.S. should reject the false “occupation” narrative of Obama, Abbas, and the UN by making clear that the Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, that Israel is a Jewish State in the historic Jewish homeland, and that an indivisible Jerusalem is the Israeli capital. The U.S. should call upon the Arab states to take responsibility for resettling and absorbing displaced Arabs—now estimated in the neighborhood of fifteen million and rising—including those from Syria and Iraq, as well as those that the UN designates “Palestine refugees.” And the U.S. should midwife negotiations between Israel and the Arabs to ensure that borders are secure, and that peaceful people are allowed to prosper free from the fear of violence and persecution, throughout the entire region.
In the context of such a U.S. policy, there would be no way to misconstrue the embassy move as strengthening any claims of the radical, terrorist forces arrayed against Israel, regional stability, and the United States. We are optimistic that the Trump Administration will pursue a strategy along these lines, and that we will see it unfold soon. Jerusalem is not going anywhere, and existing American law mandating the embassy’s relocation recognizes the validity of President Obama’s waiver until June 1, 2017. We too are eager for the embassy to be moved – indeed, we would particularly love to see the embassy in Jerusalem in time for this 50th Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day – the annual holiday celebrating the liberation and reunification of the city – May 23-24 this year. But there is no need to rush to fulfill this campaign promise this week or this month. We are in a new world with a President who is fast proving to be a better friend than Israel and the Jewish people could ever have imagined. Doing this right is more important than doing it right now.