Tuesday, December 5, 2017


The U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It is its capital. The U.S. embassy should announce its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem, a process that will probably take years to complete. Embassies should be in the capital of countries, and, as far as I know, they are in every other country where the U.S. has an embassy. 

Many have warned that such recognition and such an announcement would be the end of the peace process, that it would be the death knell for any peace plan, that it would set things back immeasurably.

For the last 70 years, Jerusalem has not been recognized as the capital of Israel and the embassy has not been in Jerusalem.  How's that peace process been working out?  How have the plans been going?  Have things been moving ahead smoothly?

Perhaps it is time to try a different tact. Perhaps it is time to treat the Palestinians, and many of their supporters, like adults, with adult rights and responsibilities.  Actions, and inaction, have consequences. Tantrums in the form of violence,  threats of violence, and non-cooperation should not be rewarded.

The Palestinians and others have raised the possibility of violence if the U.S. goes through on its reported intention to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and to move the embassy.

As Alan Dershowitz and others have argued, one of the primary reasons terrorism is used so often is that it has worked. When Yasser Arafat perfected the "art" of hijacking in the 1970's, the Europeans caved. They couldn't move fast enough to release out their back doors terrorists they had arrested via their front doors.  The U.N. welcomed Arafat as a hero, gun on his hip and all. 

Two very different American presidents deserve equal blame for encouraging the perception that terrorism works.  Jimmy Carter sat paralyzed for a year with American embassy personnel held as hostages in Iran.  Ronald Reagan talked tough but quickly removed troops and retreated from Lebanon after the attack on an American barracks that killed over 200 Marines.

If Carter had reacted militarily, and if Reagan had not retreated, more lives would probably have been lost in the immediate aftermath of both those horrible events.  But if they both had reacted swiftly and strongly with decisive force, who knows how many lives would have been saved over the years.

Violence and the threat of violence and non-cooperation have worked for the Palestinians, so they are threatening it again.  To cave into such threats again, over current or other issues, will simply encourage more of the same. 

One of the many reasons the U.S. has lost influence in the Middle East and elsewhere is that it is perceived as having backed down in the face of threats, and of not doing what it has said it will do. Once again backing away from its stated intentions would reinforce the message that it folds in the face of threats and that its word is not good.

President Obama was criticized for not sticking by what he said, for projecting weakness, and for not acting when his red lines were crossed.  The Trump Administration has already reversed Secretary of State Tillerson's stated intention to close the Palestinian office in Washington.

Secretary Tillerson had announced the intended closure pursuant to the law requiring that the office be closed should the Palestinians move to have Israelis brought before the International Criminal Court.  Tillerson had interpreted remarks made by Abbas at the UN as having violated the law.   

In the face of threats by Abbas to halt all cooperation on a peace deal, the Administration did a complete and immediate 180.     

President Trump's single purpose, in addition to feeling great about himself and feeling that others think he is the greatest, is arguably to do everything differently than President Obama.  Yet he risks continuing to portray the U.S. as a waning paper tiger in the Middle East. More important than President Trump's personal sensitivities, which are admittedly many and difficult to comprehend, is the question of the U.S. being taken seriously in the Middle East.

The U.S. does not enhance the prospects for peace and it does not help the Palestinians by treating them like children, by not holding them responsible for their actions or inaction.  They do not like "settlements."  They could have stopped settlements many times by simply saying "yes" to a compromise. The years 1937, 1947, 1948, 1967, 1980, 2001, 2009 all come to mind.

They did not say "yes."  They said "no" or did not say anything at all, so now there are more settlements to deal with.  Time, and consequences, march on. The Palestinians always seem to want the deal they rejected years ago.  Too late.  Life doesn't work that way.  Adults don't expect it to. 

They have not recognized Israel as the Jewish state and negotiated with the Jewish state, so time marches on.  Things happen.  The capital gets recognized and the embassy gets moved.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announcing plans to move the embassy might, just might, be a wake up call.  If not for Abbas and Hamas, perhaps for other, more rational, more realistic Palestinians, for those who truly are open to living in a separate independent state alongside the Jewish state of Israel.  There are some, quiet as they have been.

Perhaps such action, along with the very evident changes in the Arab world due to the overriding threat of Iran and the Shiite-Sunni chasm, will send a message. The Saudis have not been subtle in letting the Palestinians know that the neighborhood and their approach is changing.  

Professor Eran Lerman, former Deputy at Israel's National Security Council, makes the case that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital would actually enhance the prospects for peace by making clear what cannot be imposed upon Israel and what negotiations are about.  While acknowledging the risk of violence, he argues that most of the Arab world will elect to remain on America's good side.  http://www.thetower.org/former-israel-security-official-jerusalem-declaration-would-make-peace-more-likely/ 

There are matters of concern:

One is President Trump. Is he taking such action because it fulfills a commitment?  Does such action fit into the Administration's overall strategy to achieve peace?  Does that strategy have a chance?  Does President Trump think about these things?

Is this simply a political play to keep the support of right-wing, hypocritical “religious” Jews and Christians and help them further rationalize supporting a bigoted, narcissistic, misogynistic bully?  Does Israel, Jerusalem, and peace get wrapped up with Roy Moore?

Another is Jared Kushner.  Does the issue get caught up in allegations of illegal contacts between the Trump campaign and transition team and Russian and Israeli officials?  There are very compelling policy and moral reasons for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and for moving the embassy.  To have such an important action get soiled by unsavory characters playing loose with American law and the presidency is a deeply depressing prospect to anyone who loves both America and Israel.

The biggest and most important issue is how the announcement is made. Does it keep the doors open to compromise and an eventual resolution? Does it provide possible comfort, or at least cover, to supportive Arabs?

One way, the wrong way, to announce recognition and a move is:

“We recognize Jerusalem as the exclusive, undivided capital of Israel.  Israel has exclusive sovereignty over all of Jerusalem regardless of boundaries now and in the future.  We are moving our embassy to the heart of East Jerusalem. End of story."

The smart way to make an announcement is:

 “We recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and we are planning on moving our embassy to West Jerusalem.  We also recognize that the Palestinians envision Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for state.  We believe that when the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, there will be creative ways that good people can devise to accommodate the aspirations of both peoples.  For example, there is shared or overlapping sovereignty with divided responsibilities for various areas.  There is no recognition of sovereignty with divided responsibilities for various areas.  There are trusteeships.  There are leases for indefinite periods of time.

The possibilities are endless, and we look forward to exploring them once the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state and enter into good faith negotiations.  Anything is possible once both sides recognize the other sides rights in their native lands.  But, as always, the clock does not stop and we must move ahead.  Reactions such as violence and refusal to negotiate get you nowhere.  In fact, they require us to stop all financial and political support and to urge others to do the same.”

The borders of Jerusalem have been expanded over the years.  They incorporate several Arab villages that previously were not part of Jerusalem.  Nothing says that cannot be changed.  Nothing says that there cannot be different governing arrangements for different parts of Jerusalem.  New York City has separate boroughs, each with a president.  Indeed, Brooklyn used to be a separate city.

Likud Minister Ze'ev Elkin recently proposed a separate municipality for some Arab areas of Jerusalem beyond the security barrier.  Granted, he did it because of demographic concerns and he would not agree to giving up Israeli sovereignty of the area.  Still, the fact remains that a member of the coalition has recognized that, regardless of the reason, there is a possibility of more than one governing body and geographical area with the name Jerusalem on it. 

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and planning to move the embassy is the right thing to do.  Done right, it does not have to set back prospects for a deal, which are slim to begin with.  Not facing reality and doing the right thing has not worked.  Doing the right thing, while not without risks, might actually cause a positive change in the dynamics.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

For speaking engagements:  ae@edelsteinstrategies.com 


  1. You make many good points and I am inclined to agree with many of them. That said, you don't deal with the major argument against. It isn't the "peace process" which is neither. The issue is that it will almost certainly serve as a spark for mass violence. Many in the IDF leadership worry if this symbolic move is worth a number of lives. I wonder if it is worth even one.

  2. Very good article. Yet you lose the biggest supporters (and a potential readership audience) when being so harsh about frum Jews and Christians.

    The digs at the president and his son in law are also superfluous and overtly political, particularly regarding the president who holds the keys to this decision.

    Other than that important you are so supportive of the embassy and Jerusalem.

    It is only a matter of time when our leftist progressive brethren lead the opposition.
    The religious Jews get it and not from secular media. They can be your friends.

    So many opportunities to learn and have a chevrusa where you live in Israel.

  3. You are spot on, on all points in my opinion.

  4. Good points. I have wondered at the timing and whether it was part of a more comprehensive plan. Unfortunately, the term Strategy and the name Trump seem to have no place together in a sentence. Your “digs” I am afraid show what is wrong with this “policy.”

  5. YES! You should have made the official announcement!