On May 14, at the official ceremony dedicating the much-anticipated opening of US Embassy in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accurately stated: “The truth and peace are interconnected; a peace that is built on lies will crash on the rocks of Middle East realities.”
While pounding the lectern, he punctuated his point with no less a truism: “You can only build peace on truth!”
And then he proceeded to be less than truthful.
While speaking into several international microphones in the hours and days that followed, Netanyahu repeated that tiresome mantra that Israel was looking forward to sitting down with Mahmoud Abbas and negotiating a reasonable and workable solution to a conflict that had gone on for too long. The offer, or the suggestion, was disingenuous because the Israeli leader understood all too well that the Palestinian Authority was that implacable enemy with which one needs to wage war rather than pretend to seek peace.
Abbas, happy to take advantage of that natural juxtaposition of being compared to Hamas and its violent assault on Israel’s border with Gaza – which was taking place in real time – was still looking to develop his reputation among the Arabs as the warrior who stood up to Israel, even while his own days seemed quite numbered. To do so, he needed to match the bellicose pronouncements emerging from Hamas – that no Arab Palestinian leader would accept the recognition of the Jewish State within any borders. No need to be untruthful here – he complied. Falling on deaf Western ears as it has since 1948, it seemed obvious that the conflict was not territorial. Let’s rephrase that. It should have been obvious.
There was another truth that remained untold.
While most of the world lamented the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital, Israelis celebrated with a euphoria that was last experienced when the United States celebrated its bicentennial, on July 4, 1976. Yes, Entebbe.
Proponents of a strong and secure Israel could now boast that the Jewish claim to Jerusalem was not only Biblical, historical, and of course moral, but now political as well. After all, the president of the United States said it was so, after his three predecessors had reneged on exactly the same promise.
A necessary footnote. Had that same president lost the election to Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016, it would be Abbas who would be celebrating. Celebrating the official recognition of Palestine as the twenty-third Arab state, and the region’s second or third Palestinian state – depending how one counted Jordan and/or Gaza. Thankfully, it remains only a historical footnote, certainly as long as Donald Trump remains president – until January 2021 or January 2025.
Back to the euphoria. It needs to be slightly tempered.
First, let’s give Trump his due. He not only recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – dayeinu – but he actually moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the city that had been the epicenter of the Jewish nation three thousand years before Tel Aviv was ever established. Could things be any better? Well, yes, they could.
In three of the four most important speeches delivered by an American spokesman about the State of Israel (the fourth being Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s defense of the Jewish State following the infamous UN ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution in 1975), there was a common thread. A single sentence, delivered verbatim by each of those speakers: President Trump, on December 6, 2017, when announcing the recognition of Jerusalem, Vice President Mike Pence’s Knesset brilliant and Biblically-based speech on January 22, 2018, and Jared Kushner while dedicating the embassy on May 14, 2018.
The sentence, artfully crafted on some State Department computer, posited that the United States calls “on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including at the Temple Mount, also known as the Haram al-Sharif.”
And there was a fourth. In remarks delivered by video telecast during that same embassy celebration, Trump reiterated this with “we continue to support the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.”
Yes, words matter – because they quite often govern the narrative. It’s the difference between Judea and Samaria and the West Bank. It’s the difference between Jerusalem and Al Kuds. It’s the difference between The Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif.
It is no less the difference between recognizing Israel’s existence as de facto rather than de jure. This distinction cannot be overstated. It goes beyond semantics – it is one of principles. Of title. Of legitimacy.
Words matter, but facts matter as well.
Therefore, and not to be ignored, is the fact that the official United States position on Jerusalem is one that is not simply a matter of semantics. While the Trump Administration recognizes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. We cannot disregard this fact – this truth. The status – still “disputed” – will be determined by future peace negotiations. Negotiations with those who do not officially recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State.
We have been reminded too many times to pretend that we did not hear.
During that same historic week, Israel was quick – and right – to applaud the United States for recognizing the truth about the ill-fated Obama/Iran Nuke Deal, and for disengaging from that charade. President Trump actually delivered on his campaign promise to withdraw from the agreement. After all, it was worst deal since the ancient city of Troy allowed the Greeks to park their horse inside the city walls. And, it was decidedly not in the America’s best interest, not an irrelevant component of a common sense national policy.
In the same vein, in reaction to the equivocation that invariably defines the political promises made by virtually all despotic states or regimes, the United States canceled its scheduled summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. Common sense demanded as much.
Israel, however, understanding no less the ill-intentioned motives of its own enemy, continues to petition Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table where the process has been defined – always – as Israel giving and the Arabs getting. In hypostatizing that slated-to-fail strategy that endeavors to present the party petitioning more loudly for peace as the “good guys,” Israel eschews any pretense to its own art of the deal. In the delusional search for a peace, it seems that the truth doesn’t really matter.
Netanyahu was right about one thing: “A peace that is built on lies will crash on the rocks of Middle East realities.”
The deaf can hear it. That undeniable crashing sound.
By: Meir Jolovitz
Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.