Jerusalem, the State Department and the UN

The good, the bad and the ugly. In the Middle East, facts, and the truth, don’t really matter. Nuance matters.

Meir Jolovitz

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State Department building
For as long as Donald Trump has occupied the White House, foreign policy analysts, academicians, and the media’s self-professed authorities have assured us that the Palestinian issue is no longer viewed as the overriding matter that must be addressed in the search for peace in the Middle East. In fact, these pundits offered, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seemed no longer a priority of the Arab states, certainly not the way it had been exploited as the core element that justified their belligerence towards Israel for two generations.

But, no more, the experts told us. After all, we have been wrestling with the less-than civil war in Syria, with ISIS, and with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s brazen incursion into areas that threaten both Israel and the Sunni states. In its transparent drive to obtain regional hegemony, and its accelerated advance to acquire a military nuclear capability, Iran has thumbed its nose at the western world after having collected up front the benefits of the Iran Deal with an Obama administration – a treaty disguised as an agreement which has been exposed as virtually perfidious. To be sure, there was nothing virtual about it.

The response to President Trump’s bold decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has exposed the fallacy that the Palestinian issue had become a tertiary concern to the Arabs. The Palestinians responded with a wave of violence that was conveniently manufactured as a demonstration of the political theater that we have become accustomed to. They do that quite well.

It was matched by bellicose statements from other parts of the Muslim world. And the media obediently promoted both. In kind, the United Nations responded with a resolution demonstratively opposing Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. 

True to form, and consistent with historical precedent, the UN General Assembly’s “Status of Jerusalem” resolution denouncing the US announcement carried by a vote of 128–9 with 35 abstentions. It is noteworthy but not surprising that all of the Arab nations voted against the US, even at a time when the so-called “moderate” elements have turned almost desperately to the Trump Administration to protect them from the growing threat from Iran. Understandably so. Their hatred of Israel often supersedes their own national interest.  So much for the newfound alliance that the US State Department and the National Security Council boasted about at the Riyadh summit in May – with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar. How did that work out Rex? HR?  

The litany of nations that are the pillars of democracy and human rights – including the Islamic Republic of Iran (pause to laugh), the Democratic Republic of North Korea (pause to laugh louder), Cuba, Venezuela, Malaysia, the Republic of Syria (pause to smirk), China, and a dozen more – lined up at the rostrum of the UN to condemn the US and Israel by affirming once again that the experts were wrong.

The Palestinian question is the core of the problem, they reminded us, and peace remains not improbable but impossible until Israel withdraws to the 1949 lines. The Arabs are unambiguously blunt. They demand also that Jerusalem be the capital – of Palestine. Employing an Orwellian newspeak at the UN, they call the capital: Al Kuds al-Sharif. Their revisionist history is now coupled with an assailable semantic larceny that denies anything Jewish.

President Trump is the first president who is earnest about making good his campaign promises regarding Israel. But – and this is all about the but – his top tier foreign policy advisors see it a different way.
For cosmetic and deceptive reasons, these antagonists refer to those 1949 pre-Six Day War “Auschwitz borders” as the June 4, 1967 lines. How wonderfully innocuous. Remarkable, what a marketable turn-of-the-phrase can do to mask the goal of a truncated, weakened, and indefensible Israel.

The outcome of the vote surprised no one. Even the Vatican’s UN (observer) representative took time away from his church’s preoccupation with molesting its choirboys to denounce Israel’s Biblical and historic claim to Jerusalem. The Palestinians, it seems, keep winning the diplomatic battles.

Stop. Parties on both sides need to wake up, and each needs to temper its respective response: Israel’s supporters from their phantasmagorical trance, and Israel’s detractors from their unbridled vitriol.

That mad rush to judge and hold the US accountable for its actions was truly ironic, and unnecessary. After all, the stipulation that the American government attached to the Jerusalem announcement, particularly as articulated by the State Department, should have been enough to dampen the euphoria of the pro-Israel camp. But instead, the latter – so thrilled that the US would recognize something that was declared officially by King David 3,020 years ago – seemed quite forgiving that Team Trump still refuses to offer recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. And that is what really matters.

Instead, the US – with pronouncements made by Secretary of State Tillerson and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley – definitively and repeatedly posited that the future status of Jerusalem was to be determined through bi-lateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Between the Jewish State and those who unabashedly deny its right to exist. Between those who were victims of Hitler and those who supported him. Between those who cherish life and those who glorify death. No art of the deal can bridge this gap. (Pause to cry).
Undeniably, President Trump is the first president who is earnest about making good his campaign promises regarding Israel. But – and this is all about the but – his top tier foreign policy advisors see it a different way. They still subscribe to a mindset that seeks to appease the angry Arab. As was true of previous administrations, they mistakenly surrender to that craftily-contrived violent political theater.

The good news: Trump is at his core a good man, particularly when it comes to wanting to find some negotiated solution that will bring that elusive peace to Israel and its neighbors. However, he is the victim of too-often succumbing to the last voice that whispers geo-political and strategic guidance in his ear. Enter the tag team whisperers of McMaster, Mattis and Tillerson. That’s the bad news. They were the ones who convinced him, with a staged summit conference in Riyadh, that the Arabs stand with the US, as if they were Jeffersonian democrats with similar goals and ambitions. They are not. The only common ambition that is shared – and it is an important one – is the endeavor to neutralize Iran. The leverage ought to be controlled by the US. It is not.

The Arab role in the UN vote demonstrated that the Palestinian issue had not been relegated as less significant as the experts incorrectly perceived. The Palestinian question is undeniably front and center. With a State Department equivocating on the issue of the proposed embassy move, the Palestinians are once again the tail that wags the dog.

In the Middle East, it appears that facts, and the truth, don’t really matter. Nuance matters. As such, a second announcement by the US that it envisions the Kotel (Western Wall) as being rightly Jewish even after future negotiations, presupposes axiomatically that the future of the Temple Mount carries no such promise. Nor do any of the other territories under Israeli control.

With two mutually exclusive claims to Jerusalem, one legitimate and the other quite disingenuous, peace is not improbable – it is impossible. Common sense must prevail, and it demands that we cease to place hope over reality. Notwithstanding Trump’s courageous posture, the US State Department and the UN are certain to drive us to that conclusion.

Jerusalem, the State Department and the United Nations. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.