Memo to President Trump About Jerusalem from Tel Aviv

To: President Donald J Trump, The White House

You are about to embark upon a very ambitious journey, a visit to the Middle East, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, your first trip abroad as president.

While you have said that one of your goals is create a strong coalition to combat ISIS and Al Quaeda, a very worthy goal, you have also declared that you would like to boldly go where no American president has gone before, to achieve the ultimate deal which will lay the foundations for a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Once again, a very worthy goal, which would be of tremendous benefit to all Israelis, Palestinians and Americans.

Since one of the stops on your visit will be Jerusalem, I would like to give you some advice from Tel Aviv where I live.  As you well know, Jerusalem is very important to Jews, Muslims and Christians.  You will be visiting the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and you will undoubtedly see the Al Aqsa Mosque, the 3rd holiest site for Islam after Mecca and Medina.

You are well aware that the fate of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive topics on the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab agenda. Therefore, it’s important to be careful when dealing with its status, if you are serious about trying to promote the ultimate peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

You may have mixed feelings about the value of the United Nations, but back when it was founded, after two devastating world wars, the goal was to create a forum where nations and leaders would be able to talk to each other, in the hope of preventing more devastating wars, particular since mankind had entered the age of nuclear weapons, capable of destroying all humanity.

Jerusalem as an International City

Back in 1947, there were only 57 member states (today there are 193), but the people who formulated the UN Partition Plan for the British Mandate over Palestine (UN Security Council Resolution 181), were a wise group of people.  While recommending the division of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, they also took into account  the sensitive nature of the status of Jerusalem.  That is why they proposed that Jerusalem be an international city.

Everything would have been much simpler if Jerusalem had remained an international city.  However both the Israelis and the Jordanians rushed to take control of West (Israel) and East (Jordan) Jerusalem.

My uncle, Dov Barnir, was one of the youngest members of the First Knesset.  It was convened in Tel Aviv, in 1949.  If you visit the Opera Tower near the Mediterranean Sea, you would see a photo of the First Knesset in session on the ground floor.  When Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, was afraid that the international city idea would take root, he decided to transfer the Knesset to Jerusalem in December, 1949.

The truth is that the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, didn’t place a great emphasis on Jerusalem (Theo Epstein, who brought championships to the long suffering Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs is named after him).  Neither did the Jordanian kings Abdullah and Hussein, who preferred to develop Amman as the capital of Jordan.

Tel Aviv, the true capital of Israel

Your Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in his Senate confirmation hearing that ““The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that’s where all their government people are.”  You should listen to him. And it’s a shame that you are not visiting Tel Aviv during this short visit.  Because then you would see the true economic, commercial and cultural capital of Israel.

Though I have lived in Tel Aviv since 1985, we have something in common, because you were born in Queens, while I served for three years as the head of a Zionist youth movement branch in Queens.

You may recall Eddie Murphy’s film “Coming to America”, when he knew that the place to find a queen was of course in Queens.  Well, I actually found my first queen in…The Bronx (like you, I have had a number of queens).

Today I live in Tel Aviv, and my utopian vision would be that Tel Aviv should be defined as the capital of Israel, while Ramallah would be the capital of the future Palestinian state. Jerusalem would then return to be an international city, and the Old City would be shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.

Unfortunately,  I realize that the overwhelming majority of both Israel’s and Palestinians will not accept that approach.  Both want their capital to be based in Jerusalem.  To be practical, that means that West Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel, while East Jerusalem would be the capital of the future Palestinian state.  I still believe that a special regime would have to be found for the Old City of Jerusalem, with the holy shrines of the three great monotheistic faiths.

You are a practical man, who wants to make the ultimate deal.  That means deferring the question of the status of Jerusalem until you have the ultimate deal on the table.

Concerning the idea of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, your Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wisely stated that you are being “very careful in this matter”, and that you are “listening to input from all interested parties in the region, and understanding, in the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have.”  Definitely wise words.

Joint Israeli-Palestinian statement on Jerusalem

I’d like to close this memo to you with the following joint statement worked out by a group of Israelis and Palestinians together:

“We, Israelis and Palestinians who still believe that the two-state solution is the only viable way of resolving the conflict between our two peoples, look forward to celebrating the day when a U.S. Embassy will be established in West Jerusalem for the State of Israel and simultaneously on the same day a U.S. Embassy will be established in East Jerusalem for the State of Palestine.  Instead of ongoing occupation and conflict, we believe in ending the occupation and resolving the conflict on the basis of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and harmony, with the vision of Jerusalem as one shared city with two capitals for two states.”

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv
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