Clearing the Path for Peace

Everybody knows that President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will derail Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts by tilting U.S. support to Israel, inflaming Palestinian passions and undermining America’s role as an “honest broker” between the parties. The only problem is that everybody’s wrong.

In fact, once passions cool, Trump’s decision to align U.S. policy with on-the-ground reality could be the jarring new element that forces the parties to view one another with honest eyes for a change. Rather than derail peace efforts, it could inject some energy into the vaunted “peace process” that, for all its undying support in establishment circles at home and abroad, is staler than months-old bread.

To be clear, only a fool would predict that Trump’s move will generate peace anytime soon. The issues are too intractable, the politics too tough and the leaders on both sides too constrained by their constituencies. But if peace remains a faint hope, its odds are a little bit better now than they were a month ago.

To be sure, conventional wisdom that stretches across the globe, and that pervades the highest circles of officialdom, suggests otherwise. Trump’s critics include Pope Francis; Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu; United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres; 14 of 15 Security Council members; the European Union; U.S. allies Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan; U.S. adversaries China, Russia, Iran and Turkey; and, predictably, the Palestinian Authority and terror groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. America’s foreign policy establishment has also lashed out, accusing Trump of naiveté and recklessness.

But conventional wisdom is, well, conventional. It’s dependable and safe. Most everybody believes it and almost nobody challenges it, so it grows in influence, however removed it may be from reality.

In this case, conventional wisdom dictates that Jerusalem is a subject for the two parties to iron out in negotiations. Israeli and Palestinian leaders, along with the honest broker in Washington, are supposed to avoid anything that would prejudice talks over the final status of a city for which both sides stake claims.

But, as far as Israel is concerned, that’s fanciful, and Washington has long proved complicit in the fantasizing. Jerusalem is the historic capital of the Jewish people and undeniably Israel’s capital today – home to its Parliament, Supreme Court, many public offices and the official residences of its prime minister and president. Moreover, foreign leaders meet with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem. Under no conceivable scenario would an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement change that reality.

The fantasizing, however, has provided an air of legitimacy to Palestinian dreams not of creating a state to live in peace alongside Israel but, instead, of replacing Israel with a Palestine that stretched – in the words of all-too-many Palestinians – “from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.”

Now, with Washington recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinians may have to grapple with the reality that Israel isn’t going anywhere – and to shift their state-making efforts accordingly.

Perhaps, facing the reality of a permanent Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will stop glorifying the “martyrs” who kill Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as he did in a televised speech after Trump’s announcement; and stop accusing Israel of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” as he also did after Trump’s announcement; and stop paying the families of martyrs, as he vowed to continue doing on the eve of his September speech to the United Nations.

Perhaps, in their mosques, Palestinian preachers will stop promoting murder and mayhem against Israelis. Perhaps, in their schools, Palestinian educators will stop using textbooks that poison the minds of their children against Jews.

Trump’s decision to change U.S. policy, to fulfill a promise that presidential candidates have long made in their cynical quest for Jewish votes but set aside once elected, doesn’t preclude a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem – as Trump made clear by avoiding the “final status” of “specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”

Indeed, now that Trump has given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders what they’ve long sought, he is far better positioned to pressure Israel to avoid settlement-building in any area that a future Palestine would likely include. In a sense, he has the Zionistic bona fides to assure Netanyahu of what President Obama unconvincingly said about himself: that he “has Israel’s back.”

Trump’s decision to align U.S. policy with reality may not bring peace. Those who cling to the conventional wisdom about peace-making, however, should explain why their way is likelier to do so.

Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of, most recently, Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.