Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 may go down as one of the most consequential days in geopolitical history. It was on this day that President Donald Trump proved once again that he is unlike any Republican president this country has ever had. Because although Republican after Republican (after Republican) has vowed to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and has promised to move the U.S. embassy back to its rightful place, only Trump has shown the unbelievable courage to actually go through with it.
On Wednesday, the president announced that the U.S. will official recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital – a move that changes more than seventy years of U.S. policy and sets the stage for a new kind of peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. A peace process that will take place on Israel’s terms – not the Arabs’. As part of the public declaration of recognition, Trump ordered the State Department to begin the process of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although the administration warns that such a move could take a few years to be completed. In the meantime, Trump will continue to sign a periodic national security waiver, keeping the embassy where it is.
Nonetheless, this is a big moment in U.S. and Israeli history, and it is already sending shockwaves throughout the Middle East. To no one’s surprise, the announcement is being welcomes in Israel just as it is being harshly criticized in the Arab world.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Facebook: “Our historical national identity is receiving important expressions every day.” And his Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, went further, saying that Trump was making a “bold and yet natural” decision for the good of Israel.
“The sooner the Arab world recognizes Jerusalem as our capital, the sooner we will reach real peace,” said Bennett. “Real peace that is not predicated on an illusion that we are going to carve up Jerusalem and carve up Israel.”
Meanwhile, Muslim allies such as King Abdullah II of Jordan said that Trump was making a mistake, insisting that “Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world.”
Other pro-Palestinian Arabs said that the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would mean Trump’s role in the peace process would be “finished,” and they warned that the announcement would incite violence in the Muslim world.
As the Israeli Education Minister said, this is a bold and natural move for Trump to make, and he’s probably the only president who would have the guts to make it. But without it, there was never any chance of the peace process moving forward. It’s time for Palestinians to accept the reality of the situation and decide from there whether they truly want a solution to the ongoing decades of violent struggle. This is their chance to prove that they do.
It is also, of course, their chance to prove that they do not.