Ever since he announced his candidacy, conservative critics of Donald Trump have been put off by his willingness — at times, eagerness -- to smash norms. But us critics also should acknowledge that there are cases in which norms need to be smashed. President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is one of those cases and he deserves praise for his decision.
For decades, the United States has perpetuated the fiction that there is some vagueness over the location of the capital of Israel. The U.S. Congress, in 1995, voted overwhelmingly to declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and to pressure the president to move the U.S. embassy there. Presidential candidates have promised to move the embassy there, only to balk once they got into office and heard the warnings and threats coming from Palestinians, the international community, and the Washington foreign policy community. Over the course of that time, in which the U.S. president remained intentionally vague at the behest of the so-called experts, there has been no progress toward peace.
By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump was just acknowledging reality. Beyond the fact that Jerusalem has been central to Judaism for over 3,000 years, it is in the most practical sense where the modern Israeli government is based -- and that is not changing.
In response to the decision, there has been an outcry from the usual suspects and lots of fiery rhetoric from Palestinians and talk about the end of the peace process. But there was no real peace process. And furthermore, any peace deal would have to recognize an Israeli capital in Jerusalem, even if that deal involved ceding the eastern part of Jerusalem to Palestinians. If the reaction of Palestinians to Trump acknowledging an obvious reality is to turn to violence, then that is on them, not on Trump.
From the establishment of the Jewish state, the operative Palestinian Arab position has consistently been to reject the idea of a Jewish presence in the region. Palestinians have rejected every opportunity to have a state of their own because they have clung to the hope that they would eventually be able to outlast Israel -- as long as they held out long enough. And former President Barack Obama, who came to office with the intention of creating "daylight" between the U.S. and Israel and left office tacitly backing the U.N. effort to condemn Jews building homes in Jerusalem, gave Palestinians every reason to reject the peace process and up their demands.
Trump has put them on notice that the U.S. acknowledges that there is nothing temporary or ad hoc about Israel -- that it is there to stay and it's capital is Jerusalem. If there is to be peace, it's up to Palestinians to negotiate from a starting position that accepts this reality.
There are some issues, such as the nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, on which conservative Trump skeptics could say that any of the top Republican presidential contenders would have picked a conservative to replace Antonin Scalia. But it's hard to see any other of Trump's GOP rivals in the primary, with the exception of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who would have taken this step on Jerusalem.