The Blood Isn’t on Trump’s Hands

Palestinian protesters carry wire cutters during clashes at the Israel-Gaza border, May 11, 2018. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)
Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem didn’t kill the peace process or motivate Hamas to sacrifice more Palestinians in Gaza.

The mainstream media’s prevailing narrative about the Trump administration is that of an arsonist on the loose. President Trump’s contempt for experts and anything that can be perceived as the work of the political establishment is assumed to always be wrongheaded, and therefore anything that goes wrong can be safely pinned on him. It’s a line of argument that feeds into the contempt that liberal elites feel for Trump and his voters — it provides a convenient way to understand the world. But it fails to help them understand what’s going on in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC were out in force this week, furiously blaming the president not only for the dozens killed in violence at the border between Israel and Gaza but also for killing the peace process. His decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem was slammed not merely as an obstacle to peace but for setting in motion a series of events that led to Palestinians’ getting killed.

As with all things Trump, rhetorical excess was not in short supply. #NeverTrump Republican Steve Schmidt said Trump “has blood on his hands.” The New York Daily News chimed in with a cover on Tuesday that showed Ivanka Trump unveiling the dedication plaque on the Jerusalem embassy with a picture of Palestinian casualties photoshopped in, accompanied by a headline that read, “Daddy’s Little Ghoul.” On television, Late Night host Stephen Colbert mocked Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, and said the violence was “in response” to the embassy.

The critique of the embassy move is based not just on the usual animus to the president but a belief in the foreign-policy establishment’s conventional wisdom about the conflict that was debunked long before Trump entered the picture.

What is at play here is more than just liberal media bias and the popular-culture world’s war on the White House, in which any policy difference can be exploited in order to justify calling the Trumps monsters. The critique of the embassy move is based not just on the usual animus to the president but a belief in the foreign-policy establishment’s conventional wisdom about the conflict that was debunked long before Trump entered the picture.

The international community’s refusal to recognize that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 70 years is rooted in the 1947 United Nations partition resolution, which treated the holy city as an international enclave. Both sides to the conflict rejected that formula, and the city was left divided when the fighting in Israel’s War of Independence ended. But no one seriously disputes that at the very least, the portion of Jerusalem that was not occupied by Jordanian forces in that war is sovereign Israeli territory. If a two-state solution that involved a renewed division of the city were agreed upon, the Jewish areas would still be the capital of Israel.

Keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv did not encourage the peace process. To the contrary, the unwillingness of the world to recognize Israel’s right to name its own capital fed the Palestinian belief that the Jewish state was a temporary affair that would eventually be swept away. The willingness of a supposed moderate such as Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to deny the historical ties of the Jews to Jerusalem and to incite religious-based as well as nationalist violence was encouraged by the “tradition” of not recognizing any part of Jerusalem as part of Israel.

Far from destroying the peace process, Trump’s decision came long after Abbas and his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, repeatedly rejected Israeli offers of an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. While the world has focused its criticism on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policy, the fact remains that had the Palestinians accepted those offers, the controversial settlements would have been uprooted long ago.

Far from destroying the peace process, Trump’s decision came long after Abbas and his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, repeatedly rejected Israeli offers of an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and all of Jerusalem.

Like Trump’s demands that the P.A. cease paying pensions and subsidies to terrorists and their families, the embassy move was a message to Abbas that the U.S. would no longer pay lip service to Palestinian fantasies of a world without Israel. Trump’s move is a message to the Palestinians that the U.S. is no longer prepared to join others in indulging their fantasies. Though the president’s critics mock the notion that this will advance the cause of peace, it is precisely what is needed if negotiations are ever to bear fruit.

Nor can Trump be credibly accused of inciting the Gaza marches, which the president’s critics wrongly assume are a direct response to the embassy.

The Islamist rulers of Gaza aren’t clamoring for a two-state solution. Hamas’s goal remains Israel’s violent eradication. But since their efforts to continue the war via rocket barrages and tunnels dug under the border to facilitate murder and kidnapping raids have been thwarted by Israeli countermeasures, Hamas has switched tactics. The notion of a march on the border is intended, like Hamas’s use of human shields during the 2014 war ignited by its rocket attacks, to create maximum casualties so as to make the Israelis look bad.

Moreover, those blaming Trump are deliberately ignoring the fact that the Gaza protests are called the “great march of return.” The “return” in question is the idea that the descendants of the Arab refugees of the 1948 war will return to their families’ former homes inside Israel — in other words, shorthand for the end of the Jewish state. As those who organized the march contend, their purpose is not to protest the embassy or the policies of the Israeli or American government, but to erase 70 years of history and thwart any hope of peace.

While the people of Gaza are frustrated by the blockade imposed on the area by both Israel and Egypt in response to the takeover of the strip by a terrorist group, the march is a way to divert their attention away from anger over the incompetence and tyranny of Gaza’s theocratic rulers and toward the traditional Jewish enemy.

Nor are the Gaza marches analogous, as some of Trump’s critics contend, to the March on Selma during the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Hamas terrorists are among those charging the border fence, and they are not merely throwing rocks; thy’re also throwing Molotov cocktails and planting and throwing bombs, as well as launching kites carrying incendiaries intended to start wildfires inside Israel.

The deaths of those attempting to destroy the Israeli border barrier are tragic. But if the marchers were to be unopposed by the army — and nonlethal attempts to control or discourage the crowds have repeatedly failed to deter them — the result would be mayhem inside Israel, not a peaceful demonstration. The deaths are a tragedy that should be mourned. But those who have died are human sacrifices laid on the altar of Palestinian irredentism, not victims of Trump’s policy. And it’s easier to denounce Trump than to talk about Hamas’s responsibility for inciting a pointless, bloody photo op, or to remember that Palestinian rejectionism had already put the peace process on permanent hold.

Trump has broken the rules set down by Middle East experts, but those crying foul over his decisions fail to note that following their instructions was what encouraged Palestinian intransigence and put Hamas in charge of Gaza — from which every single Israeli soldier, settlement, and settler was withdrawn in 2005. Whatever you think of Trump or Netanyahu, the embassy move didn’t create this situation or even make it worse. If anything, it’s a wake-up call to the Palestinians — and their foreign apologists — to reject a political culture that mires them in an endless, futile war expecting a “return” that can never happen. Those who ignore these facts or who encourage Hamas to continue pushing civilians into harm’s way have much more blood on their hands than Trump does.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised since its original publication.

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