Trump’s Jerusalem Speech Is a Step Forward

As expected, President Trump announced today that the United States is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also said that he is directing the State Department to begin preparations to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Trump described his order as “the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” The old approach, he said, hasn’t worked, and “[i]t would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.” I am not sure how seriously to take this. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital doesn’t necessarily signal a significantly different approach, and as Paul noted on Monday, Jared Kushner’s comments on the region manifest what Paul called shopworn conventional wisdom about the Middle East.

Of course, Trump’s Jerusalem order could be the beginning of a real change if it signals that the U.S. is no longer going to indulge Palestinian delusions, and won’t yield to threats of violence in the “Arab street.” Time will tell whether that is the case.

Trump put his new policy in the context of an often-expressed consensus–the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, reaffirmed unanimously last June, and promises by other politicians. In Trump’s view, he is finally doing what others have promised, but failed, to do. I think that is a fair assessment.

Mostly, Trump postured his order as a simple acknowledgement of reality. In this respect, his words were remarkably similar to what I wrote yesterday. Trump said:

Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. …
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Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the prime minister and the president. It is the headquarters of many government ministries.

This is what I wrote:

The location of Israel’s capital is a question of fact, not opinion, and it is up to Israel. The Arabs may not like it, but Jerusalem is Israel’s capital: the Knesset is in Jerusalem, the Supreme Court is in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister’s office and official residence are in Jerusalem, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and most other government offices are in Jerusalem.

Trump is right: not to acknowledge this basic reality is to perpetuate the vicious presumption that Israel, somehow, is not entitled to be treated like any other country.

Moving our embassy to Jerusalem is a step beyond simply recognizing that city as Israel’s capital, but it follows logically. A considerable time will elapse before the move actually takes place, and if Trump serves only one term, his successor could countermand the order. But it is hard to see how anyone can take back the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

I haven’t yet begun reading news coverage of President Trump’s speech, but no doubt there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Perhaps it is time for Trump’s opponents (and some of his friends) to get over being shocked when he does what he said he was going to do.

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