U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is as complex a topic as the Middle East itself.
On the one hand, it represents a reversal of a long injustice, a farce inflicted by a hypocritical world on Israel, the only country whose sovereign right to declare its capital has been rejected. Righteous leaders renounced it under the pretense of neutrality, while yielding to the pressure of petrol politics with an undercurrent of good old anti-Semitism, dressed in a new cloak.
On the other hand, it is a symbolic gesture, something that Israel has done well not to hold its breath for. In Israel, the paradigm of coexistence in a hostile world was best stated by its founder, David Ben Gurion, who said, ‘“What matters is not what the goyim say, but what Jews do.”
If we had to abide by world opinion, Israel wouldn’t have a state yet, or if it did, it’d be somewhere near Uganda. Instead, Israel has managed to create its own rules of engagement, much like every successful country has done. The United States is a prime example of such autonomy and self-reliance, in defying England and breaking free from archaic convention to build its own moral center, which helped to make it a leader in the free world of today.
The question demands to be asked: “Why should U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital matter?” And more importantly, “What price will Israel have to pay for this symbolic gesture?”
The answer to the first part is easy. It matters because it is the right thing to do. Because symbolism is a currency in a hostile world that tries to delegitimize Israel and bring it to its knees. Rather than admiring Israel’s high moral standards while it is in an existential struggle for its survival, and despite Israel’s many contributions to the world, reprehensible actors scrutinize it and mistreat it, as if it were a criminal under probation.
Jews have been living in Jerusalem and praying toward Jerusalem for eternity, while the Muslim world turned it into a symbol for the pursuit of Israel’s destruction. Its holy sites were forbidden to Jews before 1967, and it is a constant source for ongoing fighting. What is the alternative vision? Making it yet another cold-war a la Berlin, and partitioning it with barbed wire?
Recent provocation on the Temple Mount, where Israel allows the al-Aqsa mosque to operate in peace under Muslim jurisdiction, will become the model for future hostility throughout Jerusalem, if it is divided again.
Jerusalem is de facto a multinational city, and the only place in the Middle East, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims can live and pray in security and peace. Israel protects and guarantees complete access to it holy sites for all faiths, because of its inclusive heritage and tolerant culture.
Refusing to recognize Jerusalem as its capital has become a mark of shame, and the United States is correct finally to redeem itself from this disgrace. This realization is a blessing to Israel, to the United States, and to the world. In asserting his view, the president could well have quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
The tired excuses many use against this recognition are absurd, as the president made clear. Holding off on every president’s promises for the last 20 years has not helped peace, but rather the opposite, giving the Palestinians a false sense of power in perpetuating their appeasement, which has yielded nothing but continued violence. The fear that accepting West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will cause renewed violence and opposition to the United States is a fallacy. It is a region where every peace effort has resulted in a new intifada and where the United States has been seen as the great Satan for decades, even by those who rely on its handouts.
Thus, what matters is the second part of the question: What is the price Israel may be forced to pay for this recognition? If this president has any reputation at all, it is as a shrewd operator. He sees negotiating peace in the Middle East a key goal and he is likely to demand a steep price from Israel, such as giving up key positions that are essential for its security. If it’s relinquishing a presence in the Jordan Valley or allowing Palestinian military equipment into the West Bank, Israel will be forced to capitulate and risk a future Iran presence or destructive weapons at its borders, adding to the current threat from Hezbollah and Syria in the north. Therefore, this recognition may turn into a curse after all.
The Palestinians are victims of many proxy wars rolled on their backs for generations. Jerusalem — though it is never mentioned in the Quran — has become the symbol of their martyrdom, imposed by insidious actors from the outside. The world is still paying lip service to their cause, but with a marked decline in its urgency. Peace is very much in the Palestinians’ interest, but they may have forfeited it by bargaining too tough a price for it — and rejected it in favor of an ideological pursuit. Palestinians would do best to move ahead, rather than follow, yet again, with another violent wave that plays into the extreme factions, limits their future, and drags along a fatigued media, which doesn’t know how to handle this exhausted conflict.
We live in a world with a shifting moral universe. With alternating facts and make-believe news painting good as bad and bad as good, depending on point of view and political expediency, the only answer is in relying on true moral imperatives. This is what the United States finally has done, and we should all be proud and grateful.
The Middle East is the birthplace of fiction and irrational thinking. It is the epicenter of nonsensical populism, which defies truth and commonsense in favor of colorful narratives, bizarre plausibility, and imaginary universes. But truth is factual and eternal, just as Jerusalem is the eternal center of Jewish continuity for three millennia.
In considering U.S. recognition of Israel’s capital, we can use colorful Middle Eastern narrative, and be reminded that while it is said that it’s not right to look a gift horse in the mouth, and the world’s concerns are nothing but a red herring, this gift of recognition may become a white elephant — great for Israel’s spirits, and costly for its future.
Soli Foger, an architect, and his wife, Dr. Tani Foger, have lived in Englewood for 27 years. They have four sons and four grandchildren.