Although welcoming President Donald Trump’s announcement today declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and directing the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv, many in the American Jewish community said they believed the announcement should have been accompanied by the unveiling of the American peace proposal.
“It was short on substance,” said former Rep. Ron Klein, who now chairs the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “He made an announcement and did not give assurances to other parties in the region. … I’m in Israel now and people appreciate the fact that he has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but then they ask what is the plan for peace?”
“People appreciate the fact that he has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but then they ask what is the plan for peace?”
The American peace plan is reportedly set to be released next March. It is being crafted by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his chief negotiator, Jason Greenblatt.
Ron Halber, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington who has written on Middle East issues, called the president’s move a “positive development.”
“It’s something American Jews and Israelis have known for 70 years — that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he said. “It’s fantasy to deny it. … American Jews are glad the American policy has changed, but they are concerned how the declaration will impact peace talks in the future and the violence that may take place. What you will be seeing over the next few days is a lot of theatrics with everybody playing their assumed role. The impact from the decision will be better known six months from now.”
But he said the action could be a “potential positive development in that it will remove from the Palestinian propaganda arsenal their hope that they can deny Jewish connections to Jerusalem as a negotiating point.”
Others asked what Israel might now be expected to give up in return for the historic U.S. policy change in Israel’s behalf.
Palestinian reaction was swift in coming.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Trump’s action is to be “condemned” and is “unacceptable.” He also ordered the closing of the Palestinian mission in Washington. Seab Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator and general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that Trump’s action disqualifies the U.S. as a mediator in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The PLO announced that the two-state solution is now dead, and Hamas said Trump’s action was a declaration of war on the Palestinians.
Iran termed the move “wrong, illegitimate, provocative and very dangerous.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi told Trump on Tuesday that his country reiterated its “unwavering position with regard to maintaining the legal status of Jerusalem within the framework of international references and relevant U.N. resolutions.”
Meanwhile, shortly after Trump spoke, hundreds of protestors demonstrated outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Halber said that instead of its textbook condemnation and rejection of Trump’s statement, “it would have been interesting if the Palestinians had tried some diplomatic creativity. Imagine if they had taken the opportunity to acknowledge that the Jewish people have claims to Israel. … We’ve been trying the same approach over and over, perhaps forcing the Palestinians’ hand a little bit is the way to go.”
Trump made the announcement from the Diplomatic Reception Room of White House with Vice President Mike Pence standing behind him.
Palestinians sit in a cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 6, 2017, as TV screens show US President Donald Trump giving a speech in which he announced the recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plans to relocate the US embassy there. Getty Images“
Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Trump said. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”
He pointed out that Congress in 1995 had called for moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem but permitted presidents an opportunity to sign six-month waivers if they did not believe the time was right. Every president since then has signed the waiver in the belief that moving the Embassy would complicate efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.
But in fact, Trump said, that policy has brought us “no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
In fact, he said, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is “a long overdue step” that he believes will actually “advance the peace process.”
“The decision by the president corrects an illogical situation.”
Trump was careful not to define Jerusalem’s borders and to leave open the possibility of a two-state solution should the two sides agree on that. He also stressed that until there is a peace agreement, the status quo should prevail at the Temple Mount, also known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, which been the site of recent violence.
Klein, the former congressman, said the U.S. must now be seen as a “facilitator for peace” and noted that Russia has positioned itself to “play a more active role in the Middle East.”
“I think they have been setting themselves up to be a facilitator … and if Russia comes to Israel and says here are our ideas, it may get more attention that the U.S. does,” he added. “Russia has already put itself in place to have influence.”
But Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, rejected the notion, saying that Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu has been able to work out practical arrangements with Russia, but it cannot be a player in the Israel-Palestinian issue. It does not have much leverage and Israel will never want to have an alternative to America because America has the second largest contingent of Jews. Israel considers itself the nation state of the Jewish people with democratic values. Despite all the good relations we have with Russia, it cannot replace the U.S.”
He also disagreed that Trump’s announcement should have been coupled with a peace plan.
“It is a necessary and practical move and we can always move on once the Palestinians negotiate a peace situation with Israel.”
“The two issues should be separate,” he said. “Not recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is disingenuous. Everybody acts as if it is the capital. Visiting dignitaries speak from the Knesset and go to Jerusalem to conduct government-to-government business. The decision by the president corrects an illogical situation. He did not specify all the details, and that was right. There are still issues that have to be negotiated if the Palestinians are ever to become real negotiating partners. They will bring up issues of Jerusalem and we will bring up our issues.
“I am not saying all Jerusalem-related aspects have been taken care of as a result of this decision, but neither have the issues been aggravated as a result of it. It is a necessary and practical move and we can always move on once the Palestinians negotiate a peace situation with Israel.”
Michael Oren, deputy minister for Diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office and a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said in a conference call with The Israel Project that Trump’s action corrects America’s mistake in 1948 when it agreed to the internationalization of Jerusalem.
“That changed in 1957, but it has been a long and torturous process,” he said, noting that it has resulted in Arabs being able to build anywhere in Jerusalem but that Jews have been restricted to certain neighborhoods.
“This announcement has removed an aberration,” he said, adding that he does not believe it will touch off violence in other Arab cities because “people in the Middle East have other worries.”
Among the Jewish organizations that released statements on Trump’s actions were the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which applauded Trump and said the move “should inspire leading nations of the world, led by Canada, Germany, Russia, France, Japan and the United Kingdom to follow suit.”
The American Jewish Committee echoed that refrain, saying it hoped the U.S. decision will lead other countries to “value the clarity and wisdom of President’s Trump’s historic decision and also recognize Jerusalem and relocate their embassies there.”
Among the first countries to announce its recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was the Czech Republic.
The Reform movement, while also welcoming Trump’s statement, expressed “serious concern about the timing of these actions.” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the movement believes the action “ought to be implemented in a manner that enhances the peace process and contributes to ensuring the safety and security of Israel. … In separating today’s decisions from a broader strategy, they may well undercut the Administration’s peace process efforts and risk destabilizing the region. We do, however, commend the President for affirming the importance of moving the peace process forward, and clarifying that these decisions are not intended to restrict final status decisions of the Israelis and Palestinians — including the borders of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem and border issues generally.”