Can Trump contain Obama's Middle East fallout?
Can Trump contain Obama's Middle East fallout?

The inauguration of Donald Trump signals the end of the most hostile presidency in the history of American-Israeli relations, and yet many liberal Jews are sad to see Barack Obama leave office.  Despite his poor treatment of Israel and suspected collusion with the anti-Semitic United Nations, his progressive acolytes are reluctant to acknowledge the damage his Mideast policies have caused and the ripple effect they may have for the Trump administration.

Many suspect the Obama White House of complicity in crafting Security Council Resolution 2334 to pronounce Israeli "settlements" on Jewish land illegal.  Though liberals like Alan Dershowitz and Chuck Schumer decried Obama’s betrayal, their criticism followed years of progressive denials of his disdain for Israel and relationships with her detractors.  It’s not that liberals were unaware of Obama’s ambivalence towards Israel; it’s that they acted as though it didn’t matter.  

Those who felt spurned after having touted Obama’s supposed philosemitism could not claim surprise, given the clear ideological thread between his revisionist Cairo speech in 2009 and his refusal to veto Resolution 2334.  They also should have known from his affinity for a United Nations that demonized Israel and served as a bully pulpit for global anti-Semitism throughout his presidency (and before that). 

The UN has an odious record of giving voice to pernicious Jew-hatred.  Its latest outrage was part of a pattern that started in 1975 with the General Assembly’s attempt through Resolution 3379 to invalidate the legal and historical underpinnings of Jewish statehood by equating Zionism with racism. Last October’s UNESCO resolution denying the Jewish connection to the Kotel, Temple Mount, and Jerusalem served as a bridge to Security Council Resolution 2334’s characterization of Israeli control of Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem as illegal occupation.  The only time these lands were illegally occupied, however, was when Jordan glommed them in 1948.

No modern nation laid claim to Judea and Samaria before Jordan’s illegal occupation.  Rather, they were unincorporated lands that had passed from empire to empire...inhabited by Jews from time immemorial.
Resolution 2334 represented an attempt to outlaw by political fiat that which is perfectly legitimate under traditional standards of international law.  Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem were integral parts of the ancient Jewish Commonwealths, but became nonsovereign territories when Rome dismantled the Jewish nation after the Bar Kokhba rebellion.  These lands were never “Palestinian” inasmuch as (a) there was never a country called Palestine, and (b) Palestinian national identity is a modern, political invention. 

Because Jordan’s annexation of Judea, Samaria and the Old City was illegal under international law, its defeat by Israel in 1967 effectuated their liberation from belligerent occupation.  Even had these lands not been historically Jewish, Israeli control would be lawful because Jordan attacked Israel; and according to the customary laws of war, a country that seizes land from an aggressor nation during wartime can assert legitimate claims to territory captured.  There is no dispute that Jordan, Egypt and Syria instigated war in 1967 with the goal of annihilating Israel and exterminating her people. 

No modern nation laid claim to Judea and Samaria before Jordan’s illegal occupation.  Rather, they were unincorporated lands that had passed from empire to empire from the Roman conquest until the twentieth century.  Moreover, these lands were inhabited by Jews from time immemorial until their expulsion by the Jordanians in 1948-49.  This provenance was acknowledged by the international community in the San Remo Accords of 1920, which recognized the Jewish right of “close settlement” between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. 

Neither San Remo nor the British Mandate mentioned “Palestinian” claims because the Palestinian national narrative as it is known today did not yet exist.  It was created after 1967 as a tool for repudiating Jewish sovereignty.  In contrast, the Jews have had a continuous presence in their homeland, including Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, since ancient times, such that Israel has the most legitimate land claims today. 

John Kerry’s speech justifying the administration’s refusal to veto Resolution 2334 contained many typical anti-Israel canards.  While paying lip service to the Palestinians’ glorification of terrorism (if not quite their active involvement), Kerry heaped most of the blame for the failure of the peace process on Israel.  He charged her leaders with intransigence and claimed that the majority of Palestinians support a two-state solution, despite multiple surveys showing otherwise. 

Kerry stated with obtuse self-assurance that Jewish “settlements” are the primary obstacle to peace, but failed to mention the overarching role of Arab-Muslim rejectionism.  He invoked the “two-state solution” like a mantra, as if merely reciting the words could validate a moribund paradigm that was always based on false presumptions.  If settlements were truly the roadblock to peace, one has to wonder why it was unachievable prior to 1967 – before the “settlements” even existed. 

In support of his diatribe, Kerry misstated history and spouted propaganda.  He recited as fact the shopworn “demographic time-bomb” argument, for example, which holds that without a two-state solution the Jews will become a minority in their own country.  This ignores that the Jewish population of Israel, Judea and Samaria combined well outnumbers the Arab population – perhaps by as much as two to one – and that Jewish birthrates are higher even among secular Israelis.  Undeterred by demographic reality, Kerry compounded his ignorance by asserting that Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic – a specious claim often made by progressive anti-Semites. 

Perhaps most insulting, however, was his facile use of the term “occupation,” which he applied not only to Judea and Samaria (despite their undeniable Jewish pedigree), but to Jerusalem as well.  Describing Israel as an occupier in the ancient Jewish capital bespeaks either ignorance or disingenuity.  But whereas ignorance can arise from simple misunderstanding, willful misstatements require calculated intent, which regarding Israel was likely malicious given that Israeli control is lawful under all applicable standards. 

The term “occupation” is defined under the 1907 Hague Convention (Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land), which in Article 42 states the following:

“Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.

The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”

The definition is further articulated in Article 43 as follows:

“The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.”

These articles together clearly define “occupation” as the administration by a “hostile army” of lands taken from a “legitimate power.”  This definition does not apply to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem because Jordan was never a “legitimate power” and Israel does not rule with a “hostile army.”  But by using the term “occupation” colloquially, Obama and Kerry routinely belittled Israel’s connection to historically Jewish lands that never had ancestral Arab-Muslim populations.  Just as the term is used to deny Israel’s connection to the territories and Jerusalem (which was never the seat of any sovereign Arab or Muslim state), her enemies use it to characterize her very existence as a colonial aberration. 

Obama’s UN duplicity was foreshadowed by his 2009 Cairo speech, which set the ideological tone for his feckless Mideast policy thereafter.  In that speech he linked Israel’s rebirth to the Holocaust and failed to acknowledge the Jews’ ancestral ties to their homeland.  It was this narrative that informed his Mideast policy and influenced his likely complicity with the Security Council in outlawing “settlements” on traditional Jewish lands. 

Throughout his presidency, Obama spoke repeatedly of supposed Palestinian dislocation caused by the reestablishment of modern Israel and validated the revisionist Palestinian narrative.  Such refrains were false and polemical, however, and often mirrored the hateful rhetoric of anti-Israel propagandists.  His and Kerry’s enthusiastic use of the term “occupation” was especially troubling given its broader use to deny Jewish sovereignty.

And despite Kerry’s claim that the PA had recognized Israel, the Palestinian National Covenant in fact denies that the Jews constitute a people or are entitled to sovereignty in their homeland.  Just like the administration’s use of the term “occupation,” its denial of Palestinian rejectionism was an affront that helped pave the way for Security Council Resolution 2334.

Furthermore, its pathological fixation on “settlements” as the primary obstacle to peace gave force to the libel that Israel stole Arab land and bears sole responsibility for the Palestinian situation.  It would have been inconvenient for Kerry and Obama to admit that Arab-Muslim rejectionism existed long before any settlements, or that nobody clamored for a Palestinian state when Jordan occupied Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, and Egypt controlled Gaza, for nearly twenty years.  They simply ignored history that contradicted their agenda.

Though Resolution 2334 cannot be undone, there are actions Donald Trump can take as President to ameliorate its impact, including penalizing its proponents, defunding the UN, and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.  From his statements and actions so far, Trump seems sincere about repairing the damage caused by Obama’s ill-conceived policies.  Moreover, he seems acutely aware of Jerusalem’s centrality to Jewish religious and national identity, as expressed in the yearning prose of Psalm 137: “If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my greatest joy.”