Gedalyah Reback

If now is not the time to talk about Jerusalem, when is?

Donald Trump is the quintessential broken clock. For all his follies, deliberate or imbecile, Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a morally, ethically and legally sound maneuver. Contrary to statements from world leaders that this will wreck the peace process, their reactions will serve as evidence for the peace process’s opponents that the process is an exercise in futility and that third parties lack good faith to broker a balanced peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.

This is an issue larger than Trump’s presidency, however long that proves to be. It remains to be seen if he really intends to move the embassy, but honestly that’s a moot point. Acknowledging Israel’s linkage to the city independent of any conditions is what matters here. And that’s a message the rest of the world doesn’t value. They think because Israelis are less willing to riot over holy sites that their patience can be taken for granted.

If the dire warnings of world leaders are any indication, they care more about containment than actual peace. For all the talk that ‘everyone knows the formula’ for achieving a two-state solution – land swaps, borders, military arrangements, etc. – mediators have persistently kicked the can down the road when dealing with Jerusalem. There is no pressure on Palestinians to respect Jewish heritage in this conflict, especially when it comes to Jerusalem and its holy sites.

The Temple Mount, with the black-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque in the foreground (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The Temple Mount, with the black-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque in the foreground (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

If Israelis were as likely to launch violent demonstrations as Palestinians, there would be more equitable mentioning of the city’s – and its holiest locations’ – destiny. Repeatedly, the international community has emphasized the installation of Palestinian government in East Jerusalem but refused to acknowledge even the prospect of Israeli sovereignty in the West.

If Jews, if Israel does not frame this discourse itself, it gives free rein to rumor-spreading preachers on Friday mornings and vindictive Jordanian royalty to agitate the masses into sparking periodic riots. That’s what we experienced this past summer, again with the timing chosen by people interested in sparking unrest when Israel provoked no one.

The only way to achieve that respect is to air out grievances and discuss what we actually need or want. There is no ideal time to start talking about Israeli Jews’ actual attachment to the Temple Mount and the capital city. Should Israelis remain silent on their authentic and deep attachment to the Temple Mount and the rest of the city’s environs, we are liable to expect sharp reactions at even a hint of this discourse. It must be brought into the open and no one ashamed to discuss it.

Otherwise, If Palestinians, the Arab World, hell the entire Muslim World can be inflamed by a mere announcement by a third party as to Jerusalem’s status, why should anyone be convinced there can ever be an equitable, just, fair agreement that ensures mutual respect for Judaism’s and Islam’s attachment to the city? The answer is simple. One can’t.

It’s clear most heads of state and career diplomats are more interested in a policy of containment where negotiations or even the endless “prospect” of them is used as a way to keep the seal on a powder keg. In place of of actual open discourse, we have stymied discussion. Instead of religious meetings of the minds on what matters to us most with the Temple Mount, we are told to lock this pressure cooker.

The responsibility for this is mismanagement of negotiations, or perhaps a total lack of sincerity in mediating them. Instead of being honest and demanding that Palestinians stop campaigning for UNESCO resolutions that might hide Jewish history in Jerusalem, we see a flaccid response to open threats from the likes of Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II. Israel is forced to watch helplessly as the Arab and Muslim Worlds’ respective numbers overwhelm Israeli and Jewish voices on the diplomatic stage.

One cannot make such a promise because they clearly prioritize the status quo’s periodic cycle of violence, often fueled by baseless rumors about Israeli plans to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in a blaze of some kind of Jewish crusader glory. There is no true commitment to advancing the peace process because there is no investment in backing Israel’s positions in international forums.

Israel is looking for more than military security and “secure borders.” Israel is not a bastion of tradition-less and culturally empty people, no matter what the most staunch BDS advocate would have you believe. Israel wants its position in the community of Nations it so rightfully deserves. We are a country that, whether or not the likes of virtue-signalling groups like IfNotNow or J Street like it, is the sole diplomatic representative of the Jewish people in the world.

If there were genuine interest in resolving the conflict’s most seemingly intractable issues, Western diplomats would have resolved to more forcefully back Israeli claims to (at least West) Jerusalem on historical, cultural, heritage and certainly religious levels. Instead, there has been consistent placation, a dangerous coddling to Palestinian voices that threaten violence over any activity in the capital.

The greatest argument against the move isn’t that it skips final status negotiations – even Russia recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this year – it’s that it might lead to violence. That the Palestinian leadership is so willing to foster that violence and that so many Palestinians seem uninterested in avoiding it demonstrates that there is no real faith in a negotiated peace. And that is tragic.

The best course of action going forward is the continued recognition of Israeli, or let’s say Jewish rights in the city. We live in an era with an Arab and Muslim World that consistently denies the Jewish connection to the city, denies the indisputable historical existence of the first two Jewish Temples, and tries at every turn to delegitimize Jews’ historical connection to this land (like that would really matter for people who have made their lives here in the present here and now).

Israelis – Jews for that matter – are being told to shut up so as not to upset people. That is an intolerable situation. The only way for Jews to make their voices heard is to respond to wanton anti-Semitism and double standards against Judaism’s place in the world by standing up and speaking up. Israel did not become a military powerhouse because it wanted to. It evolved because it had to. That defensive necessity, the deployment of armed forces in the West Bank regardless of the settlement issue, is still very real.

Donald Trump’s reliability should be questioned at every turn. However, the fact his views on this issue coincide with my own won’t make me apologize for them. When his presidency is something for the history books, Jerusalem will remain central to Jews the world over. It is our Mecca. And we should not be silent because it would be convenient.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.