One year ago this month, former President Barack Obama's administration was working behind the scenes at the United Nations to slip a resolution through the body’s General Assembly attacking Israel.
It was one of Obama’s final, sneaky, and reprehensible acts in office. It put an exclamation point on his long, nasty, personal feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Previously, our president had gone so far as to interfere in an Israeli election and then unleashed his minions when Netanyahu had the gall to accept an invitation to address Congress.
Fast forward to this Wednesday, Netanyahu was thanking Obama’s successor in a formal televised statement for officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
We believe, and hope, Trump made the right decision — or at least one that probably won’t make things any worse than they are. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is highly complex, replete with myriad and tangled disagreements, charges, counter-charges, libels, counter-libels, offenses given, and offenses taken.
But one simple truth remained for Trump as he approached this question. In the 25 years since the Oslo talks began, not one thing Americans have done has successfully advanced the cause of peace in the Middle East, not even a little. The approaches of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, all genuinely diverse, were equally useless.
This should put to rest the idea that an American president can step in and solve this problem. And one minor consequence of this relieving, humbling revelation is that there’s no need to keep up tedious fictions such as the one that Israel’s capital is anywhere except where it actually has been for years, in Jerusalem.
Other governments don’t need to live thus with their heads buried in the sand. Russia recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in April. Hardly anyone noticed. The outrage over Trump's recognition now is born of opportunism.
To be sure, one can never be completely certain what effect this or any other event will have on the fragile alliances that are forming in order to restrain Iran’s ambitions in the region. But with Iran’s growing threat, the Sunni Arab nations have been forced to find common cause with Israel and America. That made Trump’s decision easier and guarantees that most objections are likely to be half-hearted and pro forma.
But what of the deeper question of justice between Israelis and Palestinians? The concern that this decision will cause further violence, voiced throughout America's news media, hinges on the idea that an injustice is being done. To the extent that Trump’s decision weakens the Palestinian starting point for negotiations, one might argue that the decision to recognize Jerusalem harms the legitimate merits of the Palestinian cause.
Then again, we are reminded by this week’s House passage of the Taylor Force Act that no one has delegitimized or degraded that cause as much as the Palestinian Authority itself, whose leaders probably have to be removed before any justice can be done. That bill, named after an American tourist who was murdered last year in a Palestinian terrorist attack, punishes the PA for its well-documented practice of paying terrorists to commit specific acts of violence against Israeli interests.
The PA, the beneficiary of an ungodly amount of humanitarian aid (including from Israel), concerns itself mostly with keeping those it misgoverns angry, vengeful, and impoverished. It bombards its subjects (even in its children’s television shows) with feverish anti-Semitic propaganda and indoctrinates them with denial of Israel’s existence and false hope of seizing all of its lands.
If Trump’s decision helps impose a little reality on those deceived through these measures, so much the better. It is a sharp and welcome contrast to the Obama policy of just a year ago, which hinted to Palestinians that if they held on long enough, the tide would turn against Israel. It’s nothing new, but Israel is there to stay.