Both sides got it wrong on Jerusalem embassy

President Trump may be using the State Department to play a little game of good cop/bad cop. Or, in this case, Good Trump/Bad State Department.

Att'y Stephen M. Flatow,

OpEds S. Flatow
S. Flatow

(Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He can be reached

Well, all those dire warnings issued by the opponents of recognizing Jerusalem turned out to be completely wrong.

Their predictions of widespread Arab rioting were wildly exaggerated. Less than a week after President’s Trump’s announcement, the Palestinian demonstrations against U.S. recognition had dwindled to the point that a rally outside the US Embassy in Tel Aviv attracted only a few dozen protesters—fewer in number than the journalists who were eagerly covering it.

Yes, there will continue to be sporadic, isolated bursts of Palestinian violence every day or two. Just like there were such outbursts every day or two prior to the U.S. announcement. But there’s no sign of the “Third Intifada” that all the doomsday prophets were saying would be unleashed if the U.S. acknowledged that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

On the other hand, the advocates of recognizing Jerusalem were badly mistaken, too. While they were patting themselves on the back over what they said was a major change in U.S. policy, Trump administration officials were busy making it clear that, in fact, very little has changed.

Supporters of Israel said the American embassy would soon be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarified that it will take a minimum of three years, and probably longer. You wouldn’t think it would take several years to post a sign on the front door of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, designating it as an embassy. But apparently sign-makers work very slowly!

Advocates of recognition were sure that the Trump recognition would be implemented in the various relevant ways. They assumed that American citizens born in Jerusalem will now have "Israel,” instead of just “Jerusalem,” listed as their place of birth on their passport. And that the State Department will redraw its maps to acknowledge Israel’s capital. And that other U.S. government documents will from now on state that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem.

No, no, and no. None of that will be happening, according to State Department spokesmen.

But the State Department does not make up its own foreign policy. It follows the orders of the president. If it does something contrary to what he wants, then the president fires the disobedient officials. If the State Department is refusing to do anything to recognize Jerusalem in practical terms, it’s because that’s what the White House wants.

In other words, President Trump is using the State Department to play a little game of good cop/bad cop. Or, in this case, Good Trump/Bad State Department. You would think that by now, American Jewish leaders would be sophisticated enough to recognize when politicians play such games. But maybe not.

Last week, an unnamed “senior official” of the Trump administration was quoted in the press as saying, “We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel.”

That set off a frenzy among back-patters in the Jewish world, who seemed to think the statement was the equivalent of U.S. recognition of the Kotel as part of Israel. Evidently they didn’t read the second part of the unnamed official’s statement: “But as the president said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement.”

In other words, it’s all negotiable. Even the Western Wall.

So what did the official’s statement actually mean? Read a little further in the Washington Post’s story: “Another official later added by email, ‘We note that we cannot imagine Israel would sign a peace agreement that didn’t include the Western Wall.’ ”

Get it? All the statement ever meant was that there’s no chance any Israeli government would ever agree to surrender the Western Wall. And that’s obviously a fact. It does not represent any change in U.S. policy, unfortunately.

It’s all negotiable. Even the Western Wall.
There are, I believe, two very important lessons for the Jewish community to learn from this whole experience.

The first is that we should not be intimidated by threats of Arab violence. They’re usually overblown, and the Israeli army and police can handle them. Neither American nor Israeli policy should ever be decided based upon whether or not the Palestinian Authority will get angry.

The second lesson for supporters of Israel is not to treat every tiny symbolic victory as a cause for celebration and back-patting. Every victory, even a tiny symbolic one, is good. But let’s not fool ourselves. A crumb is still a crumb, and verbal recognition of Jerusalem is not the same as moving the embassy or changing government documents.