In the days since President Donald Trump made his historic announcement about Jerusalem, the foreign-policy establishment has fumed about his decision. But even though all the predictions from the so-called “wise men,” as well as the “adults” in the administration, that any change in America’s Jerusalem policy would stand the world on its ear turned out to be wild exaggerations, Trump’s critics are reduced to weakly arguing that he has isolated the United States.
Even if that is true, the notion that this proves Trump was wrong is a fallacy. America’s European and Arab allies may not agree with the president, but that can’t be the factor determining U.S. policy any more than the so-far largely empty threats of violence from the “Arab street.” Trump’s decision to try to foster some realism about the Middle East can only have a beneficial affect on a near-hopeless problem. More to the point, if the Palestinians and their allies and enablers in the international community really want to pursue peace, the path to an agreement will still run through the United States, whether Trump’s critics like it or not.
Making the case for the establishment’s conventional wisdom on Trump was the Washington Post’s deputy editorial-page editor and veteran foreign-policy commentator Jackson Diehl. His column, “Will someone save Trump from this disastrous decision?” dismissed both the Jerusalem statement and the refusal to recertify the Iran deal as “impulsive” and “egotistical” decisions that “endangered the status quo.” In refusing to take the advice of those who knew better than him, Trump had, Diehl wrote, essentially “flipped over the table” and left the U.S. alone in the world in a manner that Clinton, Bush, or Obama would never have considered doing. The main point here is not just that the moves on Jerusalem and Iran were unwise but that they were foolish because they strayed from the consensus of the experts and caused the U.S. to stand alone.
On its face, this last assertion is true. Outside of Israel, whose capital has been located in Jerusalem since 1949, no nation has joined the U.S. in recognizing this reality. Like Trump’s tough talk on moving toward changing or ending the Iran nuclear deal, America’s European allies are having none of it. Moderate Arab nations have also voiced disapproval, though in some cases with far less vehemence that might have been expected.
But the problems with the establishment’s argument are painfully obvious.
The first is that when it comes to the Middle East, the wise men have spent decades proving their lack of wisdom. Refusing to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital didn’t bring the region closer to peace. On the contrary, the longer the world persisted in denying reality, the more it served to convince the Palestinians that they had no incentive to make peace. In the past, the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected Israeli offers of statehood that included a share of Jerusalem for their own capital and refused to negotiate seriously even as President Obama sought to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction by allowing more “daylight” between the positions of the U.S. and Israel. The Palestinian Authority has fostered a political culture in which rejectionism and glorification of terror (which the PA continues to subsidize financially) is the norm, and the refusal of the West to hold them accountable for it has only perpetuated the standoff.
What has happened since Trump spoke hasn’t come anywhere near to the predicted debacle.
The conventional wisdom held that doing anything on Jerusalem, even if (as was the case with Trump’s carefully calibrated statement) it didn’t preclude the possibility of a two-state solution with a partitioned holy city also serving as the Palestinian capital, was that a policy shift would set off an earthquake of violence and bloodshed. The assumption was that simply saying that at least part of Jerusalem is in Israel would be the equivalent of the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by a Danish newspaper in 2005. But what has happened since Trump spoke hasn’t come anywhere near to that debacle.
While the Palestinian Authority has sought to orchestrate demonstrations and rock throwing in Jerusalem and the West Bank that have caused injuries and at least one Palestinian fatality, the effort has been underwhelming even by their own standards of ginned up violence. The dire warnings issued to Trump were overblown. The same is true for the demonstrations held elsewhere in the Arab world and Europe. As Aaron David Miller, veteran State Department peace processor and a stern critic of Trump’s decision noted, the reaction from the Arab world demonstrated that belief in the “centrality of the Palestinian cause” as the root of conflict in the Middle East has collapsed. As he put it, “the Palestinian street is exhausted” and “the Arab street has disappeared.” The prospect of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem didn’t engender nearly as much anger or violence as a cartoon of the Prophet.
What Trump has done is to begin a necessary discussion that the experts and other Western nations have refused to face. Trump is right to demand that the sunset provisions in the nuclear deal that will lead within a decade to an Iranian bomb be revoked. He’s equally right that the West must begin to prod the Palestinians to give up their rejectionism. In both cases, demanding that the status quo be preserved is ultimately more dangerous than overturning it.
Until the Palestinians are forced, one way or the other, to acknowledge that their century-old war on Zionism has ended in defeat, the conflict will continue. Recognizing Israel’s right to its capital is a way to send them that message. If the Palestinians really want a two-state solution — and there is no indication that a Palestinian Authority that is tangled up in negotiations with its Islamist rivals of Hamas would even think about that — there is only one path to such negotiations, and it runs through the United States.
Despite the lip service they are getting from the EU and its members, it is the Palestinians who are isolated. The refusal of Saudi Arabia to issue anything more than a low-key statement of disapproval to Trump makes that all too clear. The PA’s days of “rage” have been a bust, as has the EU’s temper tantrum about Trump.
Try as they might to pretend that they can be the interlocutors for Middle East peace, the European nations now complaining loudly about Trump are fooling no one. As with their desire to avoid thinking about the implications of the Iran deal so as to further their own economic interests, the Europeans don’t have clean hands on this issue. By refusing to try, as Trump has done, to hold the PA accountable for its terror subsidies, which are indirectly paid for by aid from them, the European Union is complicit in the problem. Their warnings about anger from the “Arab street” also ring false when countries like Sweden, who have helped demonize Israel’s government, now see a rash of anti-Semitic violence on their own streets.
If the foreign-policy establishment is angry, it’s mostly because the falsity of their assumptions have been exposed by a president with an instinctual contempt for experts that led him closer to wisdom than the advice of the adults. Far from helping Iran or triggering a religious war, the reaction to Trump’s move has shown that the ability of radicals to hold the world hostage on Jerusalem and other issues is a gigantic bluff that only a policy ingénue had the chutzpah to call. Instead of calling for a way to restrain Trump from ignoring more of their bad advice about the status quo, it’s the experts who should have the grace to admit that a president without much background on the issues, but who has the wit to want to avoid repeating their mistakes, isn’t as dumb as they have claimed.