Pro-Con: Should the U.S. have designated Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

December 23, 2017 GMT

Pro: Trump only confirmed the obvious: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital

By Danielle Pletka

In foreign policy, conventional wisdom has an almost biblical force. Gospel-like, practitioners intone the commandments: Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Terrorism and religion are unrelated. And, holy of holies, do not appear to prejudge the outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Clearly, the gospels are not for Donald Trump, who last week declared that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of the State of Israel, and that the United States will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Predictably, the president was denounced by the usual complement of opinion leaders, journalists and political opponents.

And since Donald Trump is so often wrong, it is tempting to succumb to the opprobrium of polite society and agree he was probably wrong again. Except he wasn’t.

Starting with the purely factual, Jerusalem has the virtue of actually being the capital of Israel. It is the seat of the Israeli prime minister, its parliament, its Supreme Court and its president.

Notwithstanding the objections of other countries, it is established practice for sovereign nations to choose their own capitals.

Dissenting savants will insist that Jerusalem is disputed territory, and therefore must be off limits to the Jews when it comes to capital-choosing.

But for most polite society — excluding Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorists — the question of Jerusalem relates to its Old City and Eastern portions.

Not to all of Jerusalem. And Donald Trump made clear that the United States does not intend to place its embassy on disputed land or prejudge the outcome of a successful negotiation between Israel and Palestinian representatives.

Opponents will add that acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will enrage the Arab world. Perhaps that’s true — though most Arab states have been surprisingly perfunctory in their condemnations — but it’s not a reason for the United States to avoid acknowledging reality.

It should certainly be a factor. But it should not be decisive.

Threats of violence are unacceptable, and should not be recognized with sage nods and murmurs about what-we-should-expect. Moving a building is not a pretext for violence, and all who accept the notion that terrorism has a justification are part of the problem.

Finally, there is the peace process. Successive secretaries of state have winded themselves in their breathless pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize, all to no avail.

But the truth is that the Israelis have had their capital in Jerusalem for almost 70 years, and Washington has maintained an embassy outside Jerusalem for the same time period, and none of that has led to a resolution between the Arabs and the Jews.

Ultimately, it will be the Israelis and the Palestinians who decide the future for themselves. And it will not be the location of the United States embassy that will shape the fate of the region.

Rather it will be the birth of a partnership between the two sides in the belief that all will be better off at peace.

Danielle Pletka is the senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. She earned a M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and previously worked on Middle East issues for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Con: Trump’s action sets back efforts to achieve a lasting peace

By Kate Gould

By designating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Donald Trump is telling the world that when it comes to Israel, might makes right.

Washington’s explicit endorsement of Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem strikes a blow to the Palestinians and Israelis nonviolently working to end Israel’s military occupation and push for lasting peace.

Less than two weeks out from this fateful decision, Palestinian and Israeli blood has already been shed, and undoubtedly the death toll will mount as Israel further entrenches its military occupation and violent extremists continue to draw validation.

Trump called his Jerusalem decision “a recognition of reality.” Yet he failed to acknowledge the reality of a military occupation that makes it possible for Israel to kill a Palestinian who doesn’t have legs, is blind in one eye, and is trapped behind a fence in the cage of the Gaza Strip, while he was, by all accounts, nonviolently protesting Israel’s continuing theft of Palestinian land.

Trump and most Republicans and Democrats in Congress fail to recognize the reality of Palestinian life in Jerusalem and Israeli violations of international law.

By conferring U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump has exposed his “peace plan” as a farce. Prescribing an ever-diminishing Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and ever-intensifying Israeli subjugation of Palestinians is a plan not for peace, but for endless bloodshed.

Just months ago, a more hopeful vision was broadcast in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Palestinians — Muslim, Christian and secular East Jerusalemites — took to the streets to pray and non-violently protest Israel’s imposition of a new security arrangement on Palestinians going to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque.

These peaceful protests endured a brutal Israeli crackdown, and ultimately won the day, with Israel reversing its decision to install metal detectors outside the compound.

U.S. citizens, as major funders of Israel’s half-century-old occupation, have a responsibility to support such courageous manifestations of nonviolence.

With taxpayers now asked to fund a fortress-like embassy at Trump’s behest, it is incumbent upon Americans to urge Congress to oppose this funding.

Trump has committed a major foreign policy mistake that legitimizes past and present violence.

We must press U.S. policymakers to block Trump’s embassy move, and insist that legitimizing nonviolence should take center stage in U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine, and in U.S. engagement around the globe.

Kate Gould is the legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby in the public interest. She previously interned for a think tank in Jerusalem and worked in the West Bank city of Hebron.