In March 2016, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Donald Trump said that, as president, he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump called that city “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”
Now, however, President Trump has decided to keep our embassy in Tel Aviv. A senior White House official explained: “We don’t think it would be wise to [move] it at this time” because “we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”
But candidate Trump did not promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem unless the Palestinians “play really nice.” He promised to move the embassy because Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”
It may be that Trump never intended to keep his promise. Or it may be that Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas played Trump (why should Russia and China have all the fun) during his visit to Washington last week. As Mark Levin says, “Abbas dresses nicely, he comes to the U.S. and he makes what people consider reasonable demands and then when he goes back, the [PA] continue[s] to fund terrorism, they continue to encourage their children in elementary schools – and even in preschool – to become suicide bombers.”
But for the sake of discussion, let’s try to put a pro-Trump spin on this development. The argument would be that Trump has backed away, for now, from his promise to move the embassy for the same kind of reason he backed off from calling China a currency manipulator. With China, he’s using a threat to enlist help with North Korea. With Abbas, he’s using a threat to bring the PA to the peace table with a reasonable set of demands.
The art of the deal, and all that.
But there are two problems with this spin. First, the PA won’t make meaningful concessions out of concern for where the U.S. embassy is located. For Israelis (and many Jews worldwide), the location of the embassy is a big deal. For Abbas, it’s just a detail. He wants to run Jerusalem.
Second, one can’t equate addressing the North Korean nuclear threat with negotiating a “peace” agreement between Israel and the PA. North Korea poses a deadly threat to regional security and (if not now, then before long) to the security of the West Coast of the U.S. Of course, it’s worth not calling China a “currency manipulator” if China will actually assist us in lessening the North Korean threat.
By contrast, the U.S. has no security interest in brokering a deal between Israel and the PA. Indeed, Trump has made it clear that his motive for brokering one is personal — as he says, it would be the deal of a lifetime for a man whose image seems to hinge on being a master dealmaker.
Backers of a “peace” deal might argue that reaching one would promote better relations with Sunni Arab states, thereby enabling us to maintain a strong alliance against Iran and ISIS. Trump has even spoken, fancifully in my view, of an Arab NATO.
But Sunni states are already aligning with the U.S. (and with Israel) against Iran and ISIS. They are motivated by their obvious interest in doing so. As Caroline Glick says: “The notion that it is necessary to empower the PLO to win Arab allies when the Arabs are beating a path to Israel’s door begging for help in defeating Sunni jihadists and Iran is ridiculous.”
To take my analysis one step further, I submit that it is against the U.S. security interest to broker a “peace” deal. We have a sizable security interest in maintaining a strong Israel — one that can defend its borders. For one thing, to state the obvious, Israel is our only natural ally in the region. For another, the last thing the U.S. needs is a new state in the Middle East where American-hating terrorists can operate.
Any deal acceptable to the PA would create such a state. It would also jeopardize Israel’s security. But one need not agree with me that a “peace” deal would be ruinous, or at a minimum counterproductive, in order to recognize the foolishness of Trump being sucked into the “peace” process.
Glick reminds us that “three American presidents have wasted 24 years ignoring serious and growing threats and changing global conditions while embracing the fantasy” that the PLO holds the keys to peace and stability in the Middle East. President Trump seems determined to run that count to four presidents.