Trump’s Non-Radical Decision on Jerusalem

A man walks by as the Israeli and American flags are projected on the walls surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City, December 6, 2017. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

President Trump made the laudable decision Wednesday to recognize reality: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and our embassy should be in that city.

That is not a radical position. It has been the consensus in the United States for more than two decades, despite a lamentable tradition of presidential waivers deferring action on the matter. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act with massive bipartisan support, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and stipulating that the U.S. embassy should be moved there from Tel Aviv. Since then, presidential candidates from both parties have said they would fulfill the promise of the law. But every president delayed its implementation on national-security grounds. In a considered and well-crafted speech, Trump announced he would formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital and begin the process of moving the embassy.

The move both corrects an error of American policy and signifies our respect for Israeli sovereignty. Diplomatic tradition allows sovereign states to name their capitals, and Israel has named Jerusalem as its own. We understand the prudential concerns that have prevented prior administrations from taking this formal step, but it shouldn’t be in dispute that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and the forces that vociferously deny it tend to oppose the very existence of the Jewish state.

Trump’s critics charge that his decision will destabilize the Middle East and stoke violence across the Arab world. Tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories may well be inflamed by the move. The Palestinian envoy to Britain says the decision amounts to a “declaration of war,” and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas says it will have “dangerous consequences.” (For its part, Hamas says that Trump has opened up the “gates of hell.”) That is all par for the course for the Palestinians, who often resort to violence and threats of violence even when we aren’t allegedly provoking them. We shouldn’t let the irrationality of the Palestinians dictate our policy.

Another criticism is that the decision will alienate Sunni states in the Middle East — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan — that we count on as allies. Yet these and other Arab countries have long learned to deal with the fact that we are pro-Israel. Israeli’s relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan have been on the upswing in recent years. This is because they all consider Iranian expansionism a greater threat to the region than the Jewish state.

The charge that this move will derail the peace process is similarly unfounded. Right now, the fact is that there is no peace process worthy of the name. Regardless, there is no conceivable peace agreement between Israel and Palestine that wouldn’t recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

Moving the embassy will take time to carry out, and Trump’s recognition is mostly a symbolic decision. Nonetheless, it is an important one. We applaud President Trump for following through on this promise, recognizing Israel’s rights as a sovereign state, and bringing American practice in line with the American consensus.


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