Last week, President Trump announced that the United States would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and that the American embassy would relocate there. This shouldn’t be a controversial move. Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and it is customary for an embassy to a particular nation to be located in that nation’s capital. There is also the matter that the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 requires the United States to locate its embassy in Jerusalem. The only reason that the US embassy remains in Tel Aviv is that every six months the president has been signing a waiver delaying enforcement of that law. President Trump has simply decided to enforce existing law and recognise the reality that Israel will not yield Jerusalem no matter how many UN resolutions are adopted.
Moving the embassy shouldn’t be a controversial move, yet because it concerns Israel, of course it is a controversial move. I am not going to get into the pros and cons of moving the embassy. It may or may not be a good idea. I just want to point out that the objections to moving the embassy seems to have two motives. The first motive is just the plain, old anti-Semitism that most criticism of Israel is based on. Israel,as a nation has its faults and can be justly criticized on many grounds, yet the tendency to single Israel out as an aggressive violator of human rights while ignoring the far worse actions of its enemies may be a good indication that the critic is less interested in peace or social justice than in attacking the Jews.
The other motive for objecting to moving the embassy is that it is upsetting the status quo, the established framework for thinking about policies in the Middle East. Acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel upsets the system of polite lies and ritual platitudes that everyone says to get along even if they know the statements do not accord with reality. Moving the embassy will damage the peace process, the critics assert, and it will provoke violence at home and abroad.
I wonder it if has occurred to the critics that the prevailing orthodoxies are not really working anymore. The peace process has been effectively dead for years. Essentially the Palestinians want Israel to be destroyed and the Israelis do not want to be destroyed. There is not much room for compromise there. As long as the Palestinians believe there is any chance at all that foreign pressure will weaken Israel to the point that it can be destroyed, there will not be peace. As long as everyone pretends that both sides sincerely want peace, there will not be peace. It may be that by showing that the United States stands firmly behind Israel, and will not allow Israel to be destroyed, that Israel’s enemies will finally understand that Israel is not going anywhere, that they will never be able to remove the State of Israel, and that they will simply, somehow come to terms with that fact, will there be any hope for peace in the region. In fact, many of Israel’s enemies; Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia have already quietly come to accept the existence of Israel, and even see Israel as a valuable, though clandestine, ally against the real enemies of peace in the region; ISIS, al Qaeda, Iran. Perhaps, by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Donald Trump has done more to realize the dream of peace in the Middle East than many of his predecessors.
So far, there doesn’t seem to be the explosion of violence across the Middle East that the critics feared. This is obviously good and it perhaps suggests that outside of Palestine, the “Arab street” is not so obsessed with Israel as is generally supposed. But, even if had been increased levels of violence as a result of Trump’s announcement, that is not a very good reason not to move the embassy. Again, I wonder if it has occurred to the critics that adjusting our policies whenever someone threatens violence is not a good idea over the long term and will only encourage such threats. Here again, the years old practice of caving in and self censoring to appease violent barbarians and then pretending that we are doing no such thing does not serve us all that well.
This seems to be the primary motive for a lot of the opposition to Donald Trump, aside from his personality and public image as boorish and uncouth, that Donald Trump has little use for either “political correctness” or for doing things the same way just because they have always been done that way. As Trump noted in his statement announcing the change in policy:
When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking. We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches.
Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time. Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.
The old ways are not working so it is time to try new ways. This seems to be the theme behind a lot of what President Trump is trying to do, and this seems to be the reason why a lot of people, who perhaps benefit from the failed status quo, really hate him.
We badly need leaders who will challenge the status quo if we want America to continue to be great. Trump is probably not the best man for the job. There is much to object to in his approach. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be producing George Washingtons or Abraham Lincolns in this country. We are producing Donald Trumps, and as a former Secretary of Defense put it, “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” and of course, “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much”.
By that last standard, Trump must be doing more than any other president.