‘Be careful what you wish for,” goes the old saying. “You might just get it.”
As we go to press, on the eve of President Trump’s expected announcement about a significant change in American policy regarding the status of Jerusalem, we recall the countless ovations that Israeli prime ministers and members of Knesset received over the years from Jewish audiences here when they would pledge that a united Jerusalem is and will always be “the eternal home of the Jewish people.”
But was it more than an applause line? And did we ever think that if it actually came to be heard in Washington, many Zionists would be skittish, if not fearful, of the repercussions that could result?
The headlines are filled with threats and promises of Arab violence in Israel and beyond if Trump casts his lot with Israel. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and/or moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would break with U.S. policy that has insisted Jerusalem’s fate be determined by the Israelis and Arabs in direct negotiations. To the Arabs, it would signify that the U.S. can no longer be seen as an honest broker; Palestinian Authority leaders say it would mean the end of prospects for peace talks, which the Trump administration has been actively pursuing and which appeared to be making progress, or at least was being taken seriously. Palestinians envisage east Jerusalem as the capital of their intended state. If all of Jerusalem is recognized by the U.S. as Israel’s, what would bring Palestinians to the table?
For many pro-Israel supporters, recognition of Jerusalem by the U.S. would be a dream come true. Certainly, in terms of fairness, Jerusalem, cited as the heart of Israel and the Jewish people for 3,000 years, should be recognized as the capital of the Jewish state. It has always been so, there has been no other; and no other country has its capital questioned by the rest of the world.
But Jerusalem is a holy city for Christians and Muslims as well, making it the most problematic piece of the Mideast peace puzzle, the topic left for the end of the process because it is so complex.
For the last 50 years, since Israel conquered the West Bank in the Six-Day War, rabbis have debated over which is a greater Jewish value: to retain all of the land of Israel or to avoid war, protect human lives and pursue peace? Now that question may apply to Jerusalem’s status, not in the distant future but in the coming days. And one can only imagine what went through the mind of David Ben-Gurion in May 1948 as he prepared to declare statehood, knowing full well that after the initial jubilation, his tiny country would be at war. It took only hours for the Arab armies to attack, and in the end, more than one percent of Israel’s population perished. But the State of Israel survived, and thrived.
Weighing such moral choices tests the best of us.
In the current circumstances, Israelis have a more passive role, at least for the moment. One hopes President Trump is basing his decision on more than satisfying his base, making good on a campaign promise to please evangelical Christians and fervent Jewish supporters. The fact that on Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Taylor Force Act, which would penalize the Palestinian Authority for using foreign aid to reward Palestinian terrorists and their families, suggests that there is a strategy here: to put increasing pressure on the Palestinians, who have long focused their efforts on making demands rather than concessions.
Any major change in foreign policy, especially in the Mideast, and most especially in regard to Jerusalem, is fraught with challenges. We can only hope that the end result will be an Israel that not only is in alignment with Washington but more secure and recognized as a vital ally, not a pariah, among the nations of the world — a city whose holiness is acknowledged by all.
In the words of the prayer, recited three times a day, “To Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion, and may You dwell in it as You promised. … Blessed are You, Lord, who builds Jerusalem.”