Trump Trumps Netanyahu on Jerusalem

President Trump did the right thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for America by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  Back in February in my blog I wrote. “When I was our Ambassador in Israel in 1998, I thought it was myopic for US to uphold a Jerusalem “principal” that had no foundation in logic, the real world, or the facts on the ground.  And I haven’t changed my mind since…Whatever the peace might include, if one is to come, Israel’s Capital will still be Jerusalem. Moving our Embassy to the Western part of Jerusalem will not prejudge the existence, the capital, or the borders of a hypothetical Palestinian state.” 

In making his announcement the President did seven things.  First, he asserted the principle that every sovereign state has the right to declare and locate its capital on its own territory regardless of international opinion. This, of course presupposes that West Jerusalem is now and will always be a part of Israel in any final peace deal. No American President or administration in my 35 years at State working in the Middle East ever operated on any other premise then that Israel will retain its sovereign position in West Jerusalem at a minimum. Second, the President reiterated a fact – that Israel and the world have treated the Israeli seat of its government as Jerusalem and as an established fact on the ground. That will not and should not change. Third, the President did not prejudge the outcome of a negotiated settlement and specifically stated that he was not “taking a position on any final status issues including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders.”  Fourth, those who believe that he should take a declarative position on a “two state solution” have to ask themselves what relevance that would have if either one or both of the parties disagreed.  The President is stating a fact – only the Palestinians and Israelis can make peace between themselves. And nobody in a senior position in any of the many administration I have worked for has ever suggested that the United States can or should impose peace. Fifth, the President is calling for a continuation of the status quo at “Jerusalem’s holy sites including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al Sharif. Sixth, the President reaffirmed his personal commitment to a peace agreement and, in a message to the Saudis and Gulf States, his commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East to defeat radicalism….” Finally, and possibly most important for the future of negotiations, the President has strengthened his position with the Israelis and his American constituencies thereby gaining potential leverage over Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Bibi now owes Trump and cannot turn to our domestic audience for support against the President.  

No matter what your view of the President may be, his was a statesmanlike pronouncement worthy of our President.  It remains to be seen what the results may be, and, given the fact that it is the Middle East, there will be drama.  But our position will be stronger by virtue of our recognition of reality.