HERE ARE MY morning’s Inbox news, newsletter and magazine headlines:
“Trump sabotages the Mideast Peace Process”
“Palestinians call for Days of Rage over Trump’s Jerusalem move”
“Palestinians cancel Capitol Hill Christmas over Trump”
“Trump’s Jerusalem move”
The last headline intrigued me, and when I looked further, the article from Brookings talked about Trump ‘pleasing supporters’ at a “very high cost in the region.” Same same.
If we put aside the media/United Nations groupthink attitude about Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, what is the reality of the situation and what role could this recognition play in the quest for peace?
The answer to these questions depends on which lens we use to view the move.
Starting with the heart, from a Jewish perspective, the statement is a deeply satisfying acknowledgement of a 3000-year-old fact of history. The capital of the nation of Israel’s First Commonwealth is now recognised by the most powerful nation in the contemporary world as capital of Israel’s Third Commonwealth. From David’s triumph to Donald’s declaration, Jerusalem is quintessentially the centre of Jewish history and life.
Rabbi Sacks said it beautifully today: the words carved out the front of the United Nations building in New York quote Isaiah’s prophecy of ‘turning swords into plowshares’. But the sentence immediately before this is “For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
What is vital is one central question: What did Netanyahu promise, or what is he expected to deliver to Trump, in payment for US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of modern Israel?
But from an Arab perspective, where the heart plays a large role in determining reaction, Trump’s decision yet again heightens the Palestinian sense of powerlessness. Jerusalem is an Arab city as much as, if not more than a Jewish city, conquered only 50 years ago. When you are a victim in such societies, regaining honour is built on resistance.
Hamas and Hezbollah use the rallying cry of Resistance to ignite the Arab heart. It more about face than fact.
The brain says why disturb the status quo? Why give cause to inflaming the uneasy calm in this crazy part of the world?
Jerusalem is, in reality, two cities. Whether people like it or not, that is the fact. I learnt this for myself three years ago.
It was November 2014 and I had just led a Labor Party Mission to Israel when the first random stabbing attacks occurred in Jerusalem. It was scary walking around and at the time I posted a photo on FB of soldiers on street corners with food parcels donated by residents, and notes of thanks and praise attached.
Very quickly barricades went up in Jerusalem that demarcated an effective division of the city between Israeli West and Arab East. Within 48 hours those barriers were taken away as the Government understood what those barriers meant. It divided the city and could easily have become a permanent fixture of the real situation on the ground.
Those 48 hours were a turning point for people like me who emotively felt and believed one thing about Jerusalem but were confronted with a reality that we did not, chose not, to understand and accept.
The brain also says not to get too fussed over the Arab reaction. I follow the Dennis Ross line that over the course of serving 4 US Presidents as Mideast Advisor, he observed that when policy favoured Israel, the threats made by Arab nations almost never materialised. It was all bluster. Yet the effect of the bluster, in some situations, stayed the US hand.
What is more vital is one central question: Trump is a businessman who lives in a transactional universe, so what did Bibi promise, or what is he expected to deliver to Trump, in payment for US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of modern Israel?
Beyond the bluster and hype, this is the main game at play now. Netanyahu will not be able to wiggle his way out of paying the debt to Trump for the delivery on the promise of Jerusalem. We can only hope the price is right, that the Israeli leader is up to the task, and peace becomes more attainable and not distant.