We’ve had the big announcement from President Trump, an announcement that was – as has been pointed out – both morally courageous and historic.
In case you didn’t catch his speech, you can see it here (move directly to minute 34):
Or you can read it here:
In most quarters in Israel (among Jews, that is), there was a joyous response to the president’s remarks. The words of Prime Minister Netanyahu provide an excellent example:
“Jerusalem has been the focus of our hopes, our dreams, our prayers for three millennia…So it’s rare to be able to speak of new and genuine milestones in the glorious history of this city.
“Yet today’s pronouncement by President Trump is such an occasion…
“This decision reflects the president’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”
For his part, Secretary of State Tillerson indicated very swiftly that the process of moving the embassy would begin – with the preliminaries of getting an architect, etc. There is much speculation, fueled by many rumors, regarding exactly where that embassy will be. I’m going to sit tight until there is more clarity on this issue.
One of the questions being asked is precisely what area the president intended to include when making reference to “Jerusalem.” Did he mean all of Jerusalem, or western Jerusalem?
It’s a bit vague, but the consensus seems to be that all of Jerusalem was intended. Law professor Eugene Kontorovich believes that Trump’s declaration
“does implicitly include all of Jerusalem, as all U.S. diplomatic references to ‘Jerusalem’ refer to the whole city.”
What is more, Kontorovich sees the president’s statement as more significant than the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act:
“The 1995 recognition was by Congress, but under the Constitution only the president has authority to formally recognize international borders, so this is decisive, binding and historic.”
What is being pondered, as well, is whether the State Department will now shift policy, so that birth certificates for children born in Jerusalem (and Jewish children are always born in western Jerusalem hospitals) will read born in “Jerusalem, Israel,” rather than just “Jerusalem.”
This would apply as well to passports secured or renewed by American citizens living here.
It is clear that this will be pursued both diplomatically and legally.
Should he opt to do so, the president would, as I understand it, have the jurisdiction to instruct the State Department to change its policy on this matter.
With all of this, however, there was also within Trump’s declaration a firm expression of intent to pursue “peace”:
This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement…We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.
This does not mean he recognizes Israeli sovereignty only in western Jerusalem, but rather that in a final agreement it might be possible to envision Israel pulling back and allowing Palestinian Arab control or sovereignty over some portion of the city.
It’s not going to happen, but he holds out this vision.
He also made it clear – and this was surely seen as necessary to reduce Arab anger at his decision – that he expects the status quo to be maintained in other regards. This is not just for Palestinian Arabs, but for Jordan, the Saudis and others:
“Over the past seven decades, the Israeli people have built a country where Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience and according to their beliefs.
“Jerusalem is today, and must remain, a place where Jews pray at the Western Wall, where Christians walk the Stations of the Cross, and where Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque…
“I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.”
The Temple Mount, of course, is also called Har Habayit, and Jews should be able to pray there, as well as at the Kotel. But this will not be acknowledged now. The reality is that we have made enormous steps but are not all the way home yet.
And then, lastly, he said this:
“The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.”
He is not pushing it: he says the US will facilitate but it is the parties themselves that must determine borders. An enormous change from earlier administrations that spoke about the necessity for Israel to withdraw to the “’67 border” (sic). Enormous. But I would have preferred not hearing “two-state.”
Of course, Abbas’s position is that without Jerusalem there will be no Palestinian state.
In fact, Vice President Mike Pence is due here soon and was scheduled to meet with the Mahmoud Abbas, but the PA now says the vice president is not welcome.
The White House has responded that it would be “unfortunate” if that meeting were to be cancelled.
As expected, Palestinian Arab violence erupted in the wake of the president’s declaration. This is what they threatened, this is what they do. The violence was in eastern Jerusalem and parts of Judaea and Samaria such as Bethlehem and Hevron; Israeli Arabs participated along with Arabs from the PA.
The IDF has called up reinforcements and is geared for the worst of it, expected to occur today after Muslim prayers (which undoubtedly will be accompanied by incitement by imams). Today is the “day of rage.”
There is expectation that it will diminish fairly quickly.
The specter of riots, surely, is one reason why Trump thought it necessary to speak about the status quo with regard to the Temple Mount. Those fomenting violence seek to incite via claims that the Jews are taking over Al Aksa.
Trump’s expectation, reports the Jerusalem Post this morning, is that the Palestinian Authority needs the US too much to simply walk away (as the Arab world no longer makes the Palestinian Authority a priority): he anticipates the anger will be temporary.
Administration officials told the Post they are sensitive to the Arab distress, but said they
“also believe that Israel’s presence in Jerusalem is right and just, no matter how negotiations ultimately settle its final status.”
Ultimately, they expect what they have done will be helpful with regard to peace “conversations”.
Pretty amazing, in my book.
The observation by political commentator Elliot Abrams is highly relevant here (emphasis added):
Trump, he advised,
“should say rioters are never going to have veto power on American foreign policy. The threat that there will be violence cannot control what an American president decides.”
That message was indeed delivered when Trump declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel in spite of the dire warnings that there would be terrible violence if he did. In this regard he was, truly, courageous.
He has now told them that their violent tantrums no longer work. That being the case, there is greatly diminished benefit to the Palestinian Arabs in sustaining prolonged violence.
And this, then, is another way in which the president’s declaration advances peace.
Comments by Dan Shapiro, who was the US ambassador to Israel under Obama and a firm ‘two-state’ man, were interesting:
He didn’t think Trump’s decision was “that big of a deal,” he told CNN.
“Essentially, the president did recognize a reality.”
He often left the embassy in Tel Aviv, he said, to have meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem.
A breath of fresh air in the face of a great deal of left-wing media hysteria. He is talking sense.
It is perhaps important to note that US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has rejected the idea that the US would use the moves to extract concessions from Israel.
When asked whether the US had pressured Israel to soften its position in exchange for the recognition of Jerusalem, Haley replied
“This is following members of Congress, this is doing what the American people said.”
We must trust that she is reflecting her boss’s stance. There has been some anxiety with regard to this issue.
Recognizing that there is a great deal more to write about, I close now to prepare for Shabbat. Peace upon all of us.