The Implications of President Trump’s Jerusalem Ploy

    Henry Siegman

    Security, Middle East

    People look out from a building facing the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount

    Trump’s move on Jerusalem achieved what years of Israel’s settlements failed to do—shatter the illusion of a two-state outcome.

    The question whether “liberal Zionism” can survive the far right trends that now dominate Israel’s political life was raised forcefully in the New York Times by its columnist Michelle Goldberg. It was prompted by Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which Goldberg described correctly as “another nail in the coffin of ‘liberal Zionism’.”

    While the reactions to Trump’s initiative have not yet fully played out, much is already evident. To begin with, they have exposed the stunning level of ignorance and misinformation that exists on this subject. Trump tried to soften the destructive impact of his declaration by insisting it would not affect any of the final-status issues that are to be the subjects of the peace talks he is trying to restart. He is obviously unaware that Jerusalem is exactly that—a final-status issue. Indeed, it is the most sensitive of the final-status issues. Unlike the others, it led Mahmoud Abbas, the most moderate of Palestinian leaders, to break off relations with the Trump administration.

    Trump’s statement and much of the favorable commentary it elicited emphasized the history of Jerusalem and the attachment of the Jewish people to the city from Biblical times. Trump and his supporters also argued it is high time to recognize the “reality” that Jerusalem serves as Israel’s capital, implying that no matter how egregiously the reality created by Israel violates acceptable norms and international law, it creates its own legitimacy. Trump also stressed that every country has the right to determine the location of its own capital.

    Opponents of Trump’s declaration cited the attachment of over a billion Muslims to Jerusalem, and questioned why that attachment weighs so much less than the Jewish one, especially since Muslims actually lived in Jerusalem and worshipped at the Noble Sanctuary for over a millennium. Most Jews did not make their lives in Jerusalem during these past two millenniums, even in times when they were able to do so. Instead they ascribed the yearned-for return to Jerusalem to eschatological time.

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