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 and concern that the move may undermine chances to advance peace efforts.
Those arguments 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, Barak agreed to concede territories in East Jerusalem, the Old City and the Temple Mount. But Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat demanded sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem and over the holy sites.
That negotiation ended in five years of violence 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 again included 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 all the holy sites, Muslim, Christian Jewish and the Western Wall, the holiest site to the Jewish people. This was wholly unrealistic.
But this was not the end. In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made another offer to Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor: the Palestinian capital would be in East Jerusalem, and Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and the U.S. would govern the Old City jointly. The Saudis could be part of it, provided they recognize 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.
Is a U.S. embassy in West Jerusalem going to change a Palestinian attitude that has been negative all along? What gesture or step would bring about a positive Palestinian attitude?
The real problem does not lie in the U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The question is, will the Palestinians come forward? The answer is no. The Palestinian Authority is too weak and illegitimate to make compromises. And Arab countries have done little 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, once and for all, they should play a positive role in promoting peace with Israel.
A policy guided by fear of Arab rage would have been be a sign of weakness and a perilously flawed foreign policy. Trump made the right decision.
Luis Fleischman, Jupiter
Editor’s note: Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology at Barry University and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.