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President Trump Has Called The Palestinians’ Bluff

Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has, in a real way, breached a false peace to possibly gain a real one. If his wrongheaded words and impulsive methods threaten perfectly legitimate international agreements like NAFTA and the Montreal Climate Accords, his same demeanor also recognizes that peace talks haven’t resulted in real peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. There’s been little motion for years; this isn’t peace: This is stalemate. Peace requires resolution and compromise, while a stalemate results when both sides perpetuate the status quo because they don’t know what to do next.

Functionally speaking, the announcement doesn’t change anything: Israel’s de-facto capital has been Jerusalem for years, even if the U.S. embassy is located in Tel Aviv. The Knesset building is in Jerusalem, as is the Prime Ministerial residence at Beit Aghion. President Trump was also careful not to exclude East Jerusalem (or some portion thereof) from becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state if the two parties negotiate that it should be so. So really, all this decision brings us to is… exactly where we already were.

There are factions of the Palestinian political establishment that have always threatened and supported terrorism. Trump’s move doesn’t change this, and at best is only a convenient excuse for future violence. The Palestinian Authority might decry the move (or the potential resulting violence), but it’s powerless to stop either. Jordan and Egypt might privately fume, but they can’t really make any statements without being seen as poor neighbors. Saudi Arabia, keen on becoming a U.S. ally and regional military power to counterweight Turkey and Iran, has remained cautious. Iran might direct more terror funding to groups that operate out of Gaza or the West Bank, but it risks open war if it does so. And Turkey, while critical, is hamstrung. Russia and China can only offer words of restraint. Europe, ever staid, has been critical, also has little to offer other than words. President Trump, whether he intended to or not, has called an end to the bluffing game, and has asked nations to show their cards.

Every Shabbat, we pray for peace, that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” I do think this move will lead to increased tensions, and I do think there will be at least a temporary rise in violence. However, at the very least, this symbolic movement of the U.S. Embassy to Israel’s functional capital has basically said to the Palestinian movement: The U.S. recognizes Israel’s right to Jerusalem and affirms its right to exist…your move. Personally, I endorse a two state solution. That said, many Palestinian advocates have focused on the right of Palestinians to form their own state without asking the next logical question: What kind of state? An autocratic regime that fights its neighbors while openly oppressing its own religious minorities and LGBTQ population is a non-starter. A peaceful, responsible representative government with a charter of rights would be the expectation of a new state in the region — otherwise, there will be war. There will be consequences. Which button will you press, leaders of the Palestinian people?

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