Amid the cacophony of reports, comments and tweets by Middle East analysts and world leaders on the US President’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and plans to relocate the embassy to the holy city, one broad conclusion seems to be shared by most: that it will serve as a “death knell” for the peace process. The decision, so the thinking goes, not only sends a signal to the Palestinians that the US is no longer “an honest broker”, but also prevents the possibility of a compromise over Jerusalem, one of the more contentious issues within negotiations for a final peace agreement.
However, as with so much thinking within the echo chamber of the elite about “root causes” of the impasse between the two parties, the alarmist reaction to the announcement from Washington regarding the injurious impact on peace seems divorced from reality, and ignores facts which run counter to the conclusion.
Here are five reasons why you should treat such claims with scepticism:
It doesn’t impact potential Israeli concessions over Jerusalem
The President’s announcement noted that his administration was “not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders”.
Indeed, even Israeli leaders who use rhetoric about an “undivided Jerusalem” have, in reality, made painful concessions about the future status of the city.
For instance, despite the fact that, in 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared Jerusalem the “undivided” capital of Israel, his peace offer to Mahmoud Abbas that same year included a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.
It does not change facts on the ground in Jerusalem
Though Israelis from across the political spectrum enthusiastically support the change in US policy, and view it as a mere recognition of reality (Jerusalem is where Israel’s legislature, Supreme Court and most government ministries are located), most realise that its value is largely symbolic.
Life in the city, for both Israelis and Palestinians, will go on as usual. Despite incendiary rhetoric from Palestinian leaders suggesting the decision is a “declaration of war”, the fact is that Muslim access to holy sites such as the Temple Mount, as Israel’s Prime Minister made clear in a video message today, will not change.
The embassy move is not inconsistent with Palestinian aspirations in Jerusalem
It seems virtually certain that the new US embassy, when it’s built a few years from now, will be located in west Jerusalem – in itself representing US recognition of Palestinian aspirations for a capital in east Jerusalem.
It may force Palestinians to engage in serious peace talks
A lot of Palestinian discourse denies not only Jews’ rights and history in the land of Israel, but erases the 3,000-year Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
Yasser Arafat, during peace talks in 2000, even reportedly denied that there was ever a Jewish temple in the city. Such deeply offensive and ahistorical claims sow serious doubts for Israelis that the Palestinians are genuinely committed to a peace that can only really be achieved through recognition of Jews’ inextricable connection to the land.
US affirmation of Jewish claims to their holiest city may help convince Palestinians that a campaign to rhetorically wipe Jerusalem off the Israeli map will not succeed, and that only by acknowledging Jews’ legitimate claims will they receive reciprocal Israeli recognition of their claims.
It may give Israelis more confidence about the peace process
Israelis have long viewed the denial of the right granted to every other nation to name their capital as not only a historic injustice, but an illustration of the international community’s systemic bias against the Jewish state.
Israelis soured on the peace process (though not on peace itself) in large part because of the Second Intifada, as well as the disastrous impact of territorial withdrawals, but also due to concerns that they’re always held to higher standards than the Palestinians.
Whereas every new home built across the green line prompts outrage by the US, EU and UN, Israelis believe that Palestinians are granted a kind of moral impunity which allows them to escape rebuke for even the most egregiously irresponsible actions and rhetoric.
Contrary to oft-repeated media narratives, Israelis have not “moved right”; they have merely grown sceptical that peace can be achieved without a commitment by the West to impute moral agency to the Palestinians and demand that their leaders cease inculcating their people with propaganda denying Jewish history and Israel’s unreserved rights to the land.
Whatever one’s views of the intentions of the 45th president, the message sent yesterday from the White House represented hope for Israelis, much needed tough love for the Palestinians and a clean break from the conventional “wisdom” which has governed, and arguably doomed, the peace process for decades.
Adam Levick is the managing editor of UK Media Watch
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