Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu at Yad Vashem (Image credit: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv (DSC_3884FF) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Delivering on his campaign promise in dramatic fashion, US President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that his country officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, noting its history as the Jewish capital in "ancient times." Accordingly, he began the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the ancient city, where it will be the only foreign embassy (for now at least).
The move - which came a day after he informed Middle East leaders about it and two days after he let the extended deadline to sign a presidential waiver delaying the move pass by - signals a momentous shift. By recognizing the 3,000-year-old capital as the current capital of the modern Jewish state, Trump is not only setting history right - he is also reshaping the international anti-Israel paradigm vis-à-vis the country’s rights to its ancient homeland.
Trump's announcement starts right after 34 minutes into the video:
One might not know it from the media buzz, but Trump actually isn’t the first world leader to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this year. In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized “West Jerusalem” as the capital (by contrast Trump referred to "Jerusalem" as a unified city). But as of yet there are no signs of Moscow moving its embassy to the city.
And that is why Trump’s announcement is so significant, and in fact, even eclipses Israel’s own stance regarding the status of its capital; not only did he declare recognition of the capital, but he also announced that he is beginning the process of implementing that recognition on the ground. For a foreign country, recognition of another country’s capital is expressed by maintaining an embassy in that city.
As for the Israeli government, while it recognizes Jerusalem as its capital (particularly in the 1980 Jerusalem Law declaring it the united capital), it demonstrably has yet to implement that recognition on the ground.
After all, how does a country recognize its own capital? Even more than by housing its seat of government there, a state can be said to truly recognize its capital only when it implements its sovereignty over the city – something that Israel by and large has yet to do.
This point was argued in a previous article six months ago, when Trump signed his first waiver and missed the opportunity to transfer the US embassy precisely on the jubilee of Jerusalem’s liberation. To recap, Israel can not be said to be implementing sovereignty over its capital because it is continuing to myopically divide the city in practice. It refuses to enforce the law in Arab majority neighborhoods where illegal construction runs rampant (well over 40,000 illegal housing units according to reports), and by draconian means limits Jews wishing to build homes in “East Jerusalem,” the neighborhoods liberated in the 1967 Six Day War (allowing just over 100 units to be built per year between 2012-2016).
The combination of ballooning prices as a result of shrinking real estate, together with security concerns given the growing hold of non-citizen hostile Arab residents who often engage in terrorism, has had foreseeable consequences: the city is leading the country in negative migration, as young Jews move away in droves.
In practice, the state is refusing to implement its full sovereignty over its capital and is indeed paving the path for a division of the city; it can be argued that Israel does not recognize its own capital. After all, actions speak louder than words.
But What About “Peace Talks”?
Returning to Trump, before one gets too carried away by euphoria over his embassy move, it would be wise to recall that Trump still plans to move forward on making a peace deal as he reiterated in his announcement.
Such a deal would inevitably involve Israeli concessions, and in fact stands at odds with the Jerusalem recognition – for if the “Palestinian” narrative claiming Jerusalem as its own is wrong and the city is instead part of the historical homeland of the Jewish people from "ancient times," how could Israel hand over its homeland due to a false narrative? Likewise, Hevron where the Cave of the Patriarchs is located, Bethlehem where Rachel’s Tomb is situated, and Shechem (Nablus) where Joseph is buried are no less a part of Israel, its heritage, and its Jewish identity.
Fortunately it would seem the Jerusalem move minimizes the risk of such a disastrous deal taking place, which is exactly what the move’s opponents are currently castigating it for.
The “Palestinian” side has so much of its “national cause” built on “liberating Al-Quds” that to suddenly accommodate to the city being Israeli and proceed with negotiations would be unthinkable. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has said as much, threatening that American recognition is tantamount to the end of the political process.
Saudi Arabia, which appears to be growing ever more active and further siding with the US as part of a larger regional Sunni Muslim counter to Iran’s growing Russian-backed hegemony, has echoed Abbas and demanded that Jerusalem be divided, while reaffirming its “support of the Palestinian people.”
Even if Abbas were to suddenly do an about-face he would immediately lose all credibility among his own, making any negotiations a moot point. Indeed negotiations on dividing the city after it has been recognized as Israeli seem illogical, as the entire question of legitimacy and rights to the city have already been determined.
Victory – Or a Sign of Losing?
Perhaps the most significant takeaway from Trump’s announcement, rightfully touted as a diplomatic victory for Israel, is that it actually shows how badly the Jewish state is losing the narrative war.
That having our eternal capital – where King David established his reign over the Jewish kingdom 3,000 years ago and ruled for 33 years (after 7 years in Hebron) – recognized by Israel’s staunchest ally nation is considered a great feat speaks volumes. Such recognition should have been a given, a foregone conclusion, as this issue of historical rights and legitimacy is at the very core of the question of Israel’s existence, and must be the cornerstone of support for the Jewish state.
Israel has only itself to blame for the sad state of affairs in which a step of recognition by an ally is a cause to celebrate. The doubts expressed in the international sphere towards Israel’s historical rights to its own land are the result of the state’s willingness to divide the homeland – in a manner that chillingly brings to mind the impostor mother who callously told King Solomon to cut the baby in half.
Even the most “right-wing” parties in the current coalition government propose allowing foreign rule over Judea and Samaria and dividing the country, while acting as if they reject a “Palestinian state.”
Perhaps Israel can follow Trump’s lead in challenging the prevailing formulas and standing up for its own rights by proposing "new approaches," as he stated in his speech. Instead of speaking the language of concession, Israel should assert its historical and divinely bestowed rights to its land, and capitalize on the capital move by proposing an alternative proposal for its future – for example, the proposal recently presented based on Japan’s zainichi status (the “Zionichi” Proposal if you like).
Now is the time to remap the Jewish state’s reality; for if not now, when?