President Donald Trump is set to visit Israel next week at a highly auspicious time, on the eve of Jerusalem Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city and the May 31 expiration of the US presidential waiver on moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
For a president who places a great premium on the power of symbolism, all the stars and circumstances could not be greater aligned for Trump to make good on his preelection promise of recognizing “Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.”
To be sure, for most Israelis, Jews around the world and our millions of Christian supporters, we already know that Jerusalem is the heartbeat, soul and eternal capital of the Jewish people. This message, however, needs to be made loud and clear to our Palestinian neighbors.
President Trump has professed his strong desire to reach the “ultimate deal” of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The conventional wisdom is that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would hamper this effort. The Palestinians also warn that such a step would unleash a great wave of violence.
In case someone is still unaware of the reality, the current status quo of refusing to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has not precluded the Palestinians from carrying out wave after wave of terrorism, intifadas and refusal to negotiate peace.
President Trump’s recognition would send an important signal to the Palestinians that they can no longer get away with bullying, threatening and intimidating Israel and the international community.
It would further shatter their delusions, calls of incitement and delegitimization propaganda that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem.
It would also send an unequivocal message to those in the international community, such as UNESCO, to halt their continuing support, aid and otherwise abetting this fallacy and denial of history.
There are also some who suggest that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would impede Trump’s efforts to establish a regional coalition to fight terrorism in the Middle East, and specifically against ISIS.
The reality, however, is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long ceased to be a top priority for the Arab and Gulf states, which are today more concerned with a nuclear Iran and rampaging ISIS than about what is or isn’t Israel’s capital – or even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for that matter.
Every US president since 1967 has more or less sought to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but each has failed – not for lack of effort, but due largely to Palestinian rejectionism and intransigence.
Despite Trump’s best intentions, there is no indication that the Palestinians’ position has changed.
Perhaps most important, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would correct a longstanding injustice. It would also be a sign of real and courageous leadership by Trump, who when asked the day before his inauguration about his pledge to move the embassy, said: “You know, I am not a person who breaks promises.”
Quite simply put, there is never a wrong time to do what is right, just and moral. Although Israel will be marking 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem next week, the Jewish people’s historic, legal and inextricable connection to this city extends to well over 3,000 years.
It remains an absurd anomaly that Jerusalem is the only world capital not recognized by the international community. Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people – and only the Jewish people, throughout recorded history. It is mentioned more than 850 times in the Bible, yet not even once in the Koran. We end prayers on our High Holy Days with the words “Next Year in Jerusalem,” where the city is also the seat of Israel’s parliament, government and judiciary.
Just this week, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley made an important statement and observation when she said, echoing Trump’s preelection promise: “Obviously I believe that the capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, because if you look at it all their government is in Jerusalem. So much of what goes on is in Jerusalem and I think we have to see that for what it is.”
There is no real impediment precluding Trump’s recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To offset any possible concerns, he can add the caveat that, in the event there is a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and a different agreement is reached between the two sides on Jerusalem, the US would recognize that, too. Pending that, however, the US should not wait, – it should lead, refusing to let its actions be dictated by terrorists.
Israelis know that Trump is a friend and we certainly welcome his efforts to bring peace to the region. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would only enhance these efforts.
It would shatter the Palestinian fallacy that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem and send an important message to them that they can no longer bully and intimidate Israel the international community with impunity. It would also force the Palestinians to take a more pragmatic stand to demonstrate their commitment to peace, starting with an end to incitement and payments to terrorists and their families.
During his visit to Israel on the eve of Jerusalem Day, Trump is scheduled to give an historic address at the Israel Museum (originally planned for Masada), which according to his national security adviser H.R. McMaster, will “celebrate the unique history of Israel and of the Jewish people, while reaffirming America’s unshakable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East.”
The museum, one of the most important cultural institutions in Israel housing Jewish artifacts going back millennia, is located in heart of Jerusalem, overlooking the Holy City from between the Knesset and the Supreme Court.
There could be no better time or more powerful an opportunity to celebrate the unique history of Israel and the Jewish people, while reaffirming the unshakable bond between Israel and the United States, than to reaffirm and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and undisputed capital.
Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer. This opinion article was first published in The Jerusalem Post.