A New York Times columnist speaking at a Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County event endorsed President Donald Trump’s decision last week to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Bret Stephens, who previously worked for The Wall Street Journal and served as editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post, spoke to about 400 people Wednesday night at Eastpointe Country Club. Stephens is also a regular contributor to MSNBC.
Stephens said the president’s decision merely aligns the United States’ word with deeds and reality. Building a new American Embassy in Jerusalem will have no effect on what happens there, he said.
“The prospect of peace is neither closer nor farther away,” Stephens said.
In a speech at the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room last Wednesday, Trump announced plans to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He reasoned that having the embassy in Tel Aviv has not led to long-lasting peace.
Trump has said he was acknowledging the obvious and that moving the embassy is the “right thing to do.” In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which said the embassy would be moved to Jerusalem before the turn of the century, but presidents have delayed the move.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told an international summit this week that the United States is unfit to mediate the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He called Trump’s decision a “crime.” Palestinians claim all of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, as the capital of a future state. Israeli construction there and in the West Bank has led to a breakdown in peace talks.
Jews, Christians and Muslims all revere Jerusalem. Jews pray at the Western Wall, Christians walk the Stations of the Cross and Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Jerusalem should not be a divided city, Stephens said.
“Israel alone guarantees the rights of Muslims, Jews and Christians to exercise their religious freedom,” he said, noting Palestinian desecration of Jewish cemeteries and other holy sites.
Michael Hoffman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, said he was pleased to have so many people from northern Palm Beach County with a passion for Israeli people and politics gathered in one room. The consensus among the Jewish community mirrors Stephens’ opinion, he said.
“It is the spiritual home of the Jewish people,” Hoffman said. “It is the home of the government of Israel. It makes a statement about it being a place where Jews can come together.”
American policy historically has been dominated by cliches instead of being rooted in reality, Stephens said. For example, “Middle East peace” usually refers to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
It’s a myth that Israel and Palestine have to settle accounts for there to be peace, he said. Israel provides Egypt with strategic assets, Israel regularly shares intelligence and Israel has interests other than Palestine that connect it with its neighbors, he said.
Even after Israel withdrew settlements, Gaza did not become a model for a Palestinian state, Stephens said. The Palestinian attitude that Israel has no right to exist is what needs to change, he said.
“The conflict remains existential,” he said.
It’s also a myth that the United States can ignore the Middle East and be left alone by terrorists, Stephens said.
“We can fight them in those places, or we can fight them on 42nd Street or the streets of Marseille,” he said.
Stephens referred to the man who strapped a bomb to his chest and detonated it in a New York City subway corridor on Monday and a truck driver who purposely drove down a bike path in Lower Manhattan on Halloween, killing eight people. Both men identified with the Islamic State.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.