President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin the process to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — has prompted warnings of Arab violence. The concern is that the move may undermine the chances to advancing peace efforts.
King Abdullah of Jordan warned of the “dangerous repercussions” of such move and Mahmoud Abbas warned of the consequences that such step may have on the peace process and the stability of the region.
These arguments were echoed by several countries including Turkey, Egypt, and Syria. France stated that such issue should be resolved in a final status negotiation between both sides. Some Democrats and media analysts in the U.S expressed similar concern. Yet, the United Kingdom and the Vatican wisely avoided strong judgements on the subject-matter.
Those arguments that have expressed fear of Arab rage, fail to see the entire picture.
Israel offered a solution on Jerusalem during negotiations with the Palestinians. In the year 2000 during the Camp David Conference, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered sovereignty over Arab Jerusalem and Palestinian custodianship over the Muslim Holy Sites. That offer was far-reaching and unprecedented, where Israel broke the dogma of one unified Jerusalem, a gesture President Clinton fully acknowledged and admired. Likewise, he agreed to concede territories in East Jerusalem, in the Old City and the Temple Mount. Then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat demanded sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem and over the holy sites. In order to defend his position on Jerusalem, Arafat was even willing to shame himself with absurd arguments and distorted facts such as “the ruins of the old Jewish temple were not in Jerusalem but in Nablus.”
That negotiation ended in a 5-year violence also called the “Second Intifada.”
Still, less than half a year after the collapse of Camp David, Israel accepted the “Clinton Parameters”, a proposal for final peace between the parties that included again recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, including the Arab suburbs and the Arab quarters of the old city. However, Arafat responded again by demanding control over the Al Aksa Mosque and the entire Temple Mount. In other words, Arafat demanded control over all the holy sites, Muslim, Christian and Jewish (including the Western wall, the holiest site to the Jewish people). The reality is that such attitude of insisting in retaining 100 percent of Jerusalem does not sound like an appropriate negotiating strategy. It is true that the negotiating process may start from the unreasonable and sometimes from the absurd. But the unreasonable cannot be proposed this late in the process or in any realistic negotiation where the parties seek a successful outcome.
But this is not the end. In 2008 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made another offer to Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor. According to this offer, the Palestinian capital would be in East Jerusalem and Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and the United States would govern the Old City jointly. The Saudis could be part of it, provided that they recognize the State of Israel. The Arab neighborhoods would be part of the Palestinian state and the Jewish neighborhoods part of Israel. This offer received no response from Abbas.
Can we really say that reasonable solutions have not been tried? A U.S Embassy in West Jerusalem is going to change a Palestinian attitude that has been negative all along? What gesture or step would bring about a positive Palestinian attitude?
Egypt refused to respond to president Bill Clinton’s call to give support to Arafat to make concessions during the Camp David negotiations., Egypt walked away from the entire peace process except for introducing negative resolutions on Israel in the United Nations on behalf of the Palestinians. France and a few other European countries supported a UNESCO resolution denying the special connection between the Western Wall and the Jewish people. Why did France do it? To appease and please the Arab and Palestinian street? To avoid terrorist attacks on its soil? It certainly wasn’t to advance peace.
The real problem of the peace process does not lie in a U.S decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Furthermore, such move does not preclude the possibility of a compromise on East Jerusalem. The question is: Will the Palestinians come forward? The answer is “no.” The Palestinian Authority is too weak and illegitimate to make compromises. For their part, Arab countries have not done much to support such compromises.
President Trump’s move on Jerusalem sends a clear message to the Palestinians and Arab countries that they no longer can have “veto powers” on Jerusalem and that they should play once and for all a positive role in promoting peace and reconciliation with Israel. A policy guided by fear of Arab rage would have been be a sign of weakness and a perilous flawed foreign policy. Trump made the right decision.