Earlier this month, President Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This is unequivocally something to celebrate. However, a look back at history should guide what we do going forward. I refer to President George W. Bush's letter to Ariel Sharon around the time of the disengagement from Gaza. In that letter, which was endorsed by Congress, the United States committed that on the heels of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza that the U.S. would refrain from raising an issue about the settlements close to the Green Line. Like Trump's later recognition of Jerusalem, Bush's acquiescing to the near settlements was an unambiguous positive while it was in force.
One would expect that congressional endorsement would give the Sharon letter some degree of permanence, but that was not to be. As soon as Bush's presidency ended, his successor ignored it and went on a messianic crusade against the settlements, treating the Ramat Shlomo section of Jerusalem no differently than Elon Moreh on the outskirts of Nablus. The question now is, what can we do so that Trump's recognition will not meet the same fate as the Sharon letter? Does anyone not think that if Bernie Sanders were chas v'shalom to become president in 2021, barring changes from current circumstances, that he would rescind Trump's recognition of Jerusalem?
One change that would complicate any successor's attempt to rescind the Jerusalem recognition would be to create facts on the ground. That would mean getting the embassy moved during Trump's current term. Going from recognizing Jerusalem is Israel's capital while the embassy remains in Tel Aviv to reverting back to recognizing Tel Aviv as Israel's capital is a fairly simple move for a potential future president with an Obama-like or worse mindset. Changing the status of a functioning embassy in Jerusalem would be more complicated. Tillerson must not be allowed to drag his feet on this issue.
A further change that would complicate a move to rescind the Jerusalem recognition would be to change the narrative surrounding it from one of a sop to the Israeli and American Christian rights to one of a blow against injustice. Unfortunately, Trump's lack of credibility on any other issue would not facilitate this. Nonetheless, we must try to advance this alternative narrative in order to increase the likelihood that the Jerusalem recognition outlives Trump's administration.
One possible approach to do so would be put forward a more compelling explanation of what is needed in order to achieve peace. Previously, I have written what would be needed to demonstrate that the Palestinians are genuinely interested in peace. What is needed is for the Palestinians to declare three things:
- The Jews are a people
- The Jewish people are deeply connected to the Land of Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular
- The Pact of Umar has no place in the modern world (modified from the original list)
Denial of any one of those three would mean Jewish sovereignty on so much as a postage stamp-sized plot of the hallowed Dar-al-Islam is an injustice. It is possible to recognize an inability to address that particular injustice. Abu Yehuda likened this to recognizing an alligator lying across the sidewalk, you can't ignore it, but you wouldn't recognize its right to be there and you would call the game commission to have it removed ASAP. Combine the saying "no justice, no peace" with denial of any of my three points meaning Israel's existence in any borders is an injustice and the result is that there can be no peace with both Israel existing and a Palestinian entity clinging to denial of any of those three.
Returning to the Jerusalem declaration, part of acknowledging the bond between the Jewish people and Jerusalem is accepting that Jerusalem is the Jews' capital. Opposing that recognition is ipso facto proof of denial of point 2 and thus an inability to have anything more than a truce with Israel to be used to build up their forces to finally impose their concept of "justice."
UPDATE: Abbas recently announced that in the wake of the Jerusalem announcement, he will no longer listen to any American peace plan. If the current narrative persists, this will provide Trump's successor the perfect excuse to revoke his recognition of Jerusalem. The task ahead is to attack that narrative and replace it with one in which Abbas' tantrum in response to the recognition of Jerusalem is proof-positive that he is unwilling to accept any peace in which Israel remains. I do not have answers as to what would change the narrative, but I can say that resting on our laurels that we have the power for now to preserve the Jerusalem recognition will not do so.