On the face of it, one can legitimately wonder what is the big hack-Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel, and has been so since day one of the existence of the state. So finally here comes an American President and says so, not a big deal, ah? Well, a huge deal and this is for two reasons. First, because it is the Middle East, and in the Middle East, history and symbols are crucially important, and history in this region is not measured in centuries, rather in millenia, and so it is significant that the Sunni-Shi’ite rivalry has lasted for 1400 years and still does, and Jerusalem has been the epicenter of the Jewish people for 3000 years. Secondly, it is because the UN through UNESCO declared war on Jewish history and religion by accepting unprecedented decisions annulling any connection between Jews and their ancient center. And now, an American President restores some sanity to the entire question of Jerusalem. Trump may not be the most popular American President in the international arena, but America is still the No 1 world power, and today’s historic speech cannot and would not be brushed aside, more likely the UNESCO decisions will be. Symbolism is important, but there is also a large dose of real politics involved.
To start with, this is the opportunity for the US to restore credibility to its Middle East policy. Something which has been missing since the Obama renunciation of his own stated declarations about the Red Line of using chemical weapons in Syria. Even more so, his sustained effort to bring about the Iran nuclear deal in face of great resistance from the US regional allies, and not only Israel. This blog called attention to the US problem of credibility, and on the 12th of January, 2017 called for Trump to stand behind his campaign rhetoric about Jerusalem, as a vital means of restoring American credibility. The President waited nearly a year, but in this case, better late than never. What makes it even a bigger case of credibility versus lack thereof, is the fact, that the overriding theme of Arab, and particularly Palestinian rhetoric against the President’s move, was the threat of using violence. These are the same people who want us to believe, that they are the West best partners in the struggle against ISIS terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism, and Abbas may have to understand, that it cannot be used according to his convenient needs. With regard to Hamas and the Iranian-led coalition of terrorism it is needless to waste too many words. Do they really need an excuse in order to engage in terrorism, let alone threaten to use it? No one in their right mind can take their threats lightly, but, on the same token, they and others should not take lightly the resolve of the US and Israel to stand up to terrorism. With respect to the Kingdom of Jordan whose official spokespeople threaten us all with violence, it may be useful to remember, that it is the neighbor from the West , which is called Israel, which in the past came to the help of the Hashimite regime when it was under existential threat. It may be the case, that all the doom day predictions will materialize, and alongside the Sunni-Shi’ite current carnage, there will also be a wave of anti American and anti Israel terrorism. It may be, but it does not have to be, and the Arab rulers could end up in the receiving end of what they threaten others with, and it should be their own interest to restrain extremists, probably starting to do it by moderating their own rhetoric.
It should be their own interest also because, as historic as today’s speech is, it simply is the fact, that the President went beyond symbolism and delved into the world of reality, by making it clear, that the announcement about Jerusalem does not constitute any American recognition of the current municipal boundaries of Jerusalem as being the final ones. In fact, the President said enough to have PM Netanyahu worried as well. The possibility of a partition of Jerusalem was not ruled out, not that parts of Jerusalem could also be a Palestinian capital. Responsible Arab leaders can build on this when planning their future steps, but this is their decision to make, and the choice they face is stark. Resort to violence or turn to negotiations. It is the Middle East, where usually these are the bad news which prevail.
It does not have to be like that, and hopefully it will not, but experience of the past calls for caution and alert, though Israelis and their supporters are entitled to rejoice. They had their moments of justified rage when the UN accepted the outrageous antisemitic decisions about Jerusalem, and the rage did not lead to violence in response. Nor should the Palestinian days of rage lead to violence.