December 14, 2017

5 min read

Ira Sharkansky

Donald’s speech about Jerusalem was his best performance to date.

Perhaps because it was tightly controlled. He read a prepared presentation whose details had been known and commented upon for several hours. We didn’t have to experience the bi-lingual confusion of a simultaneous translation in Hebrew overlaying the President’s English. Hebrew subtitles were prepared and flowed across the bottom of the screen.

Most impressive was the realism, finally recognized by the American White House, of Israeli accomplishment and Palestinian intransigence.

Whatever produced the Presidential resolve survived several days of complaint and pressure, not only from Muslim sources but also from major European governments and professionals in the US Departments of State and Defense…

The President left the future up to the parties, with the Palestinians now on notice that they are expected–at least by this sitting President–to accept Israel’s existence and to bargain with it on details.

Initial expectations were guardedly optimistic. There’s been a lot of blather from Palestinian politicians, with parallel expressions by the heads of Muslim governments from Turkey and North Africa through to Iran and on to Malaysia and Indonesia. Guesses are that there isn’t the desire or energy among the Palestinians to do more than several days of demonstrations, curses, stone throwing, and tire burning, with limited casualties.

The balance of power–physical, economic, and political–is awesomely in favor of Israel.

It’s not a good time for a Palestinian uprising.

Their assets have declined greatly, with warfare among Muslims and Hamas siding with Iran while Fatah is staying with Sunnis and Saudi Arabia.

TIME headlined rage among Palestinians.

Overseas journalists who pronounce on the situation are unlikely to be fluent in either Hebrew or Arabic. Israeli media rely on Jews and Arabs who know both languages and have immersed themselves for years in the nuances of regional politics.

There’s always rage among Palestinians, especially on occasions like the present, when their leaders screech hyperbolic demands for national rights…

There can be several such occasions in the course of a year. Young men and some women march and throw things at the police and soldiers. The usual result, so far seen on this occasion, is a number of injured and a few dead Palestinians.

Should Palestinians embark on serious violence, an initial response could be to close the borders and the disappearance of more than 100,000 jobs in Israel. There is no shortage of Bulgarians, Romanians, Chinese, Thais, and others to take their places. Money flows and banking controls are in Israeli hands. The IDF and other security forces have shown what they are willing to do.

The wave of criticism against Trump and threats from governmental figures across the Middle East may be nothing more than lip service. In practical terms, Saudi Arabia has moved closer to Israel than to the Palestinians. It revised its peace plan of some years ago. The present version does not include the right of refugees return or a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.

Turkey has threatened to end diplomatic relations with Israel, but it is playing risky games with Russia and Iran in Syria. The Kurds are always a problem for them, and the US and Israel have cards to play.

The Hamas leader declared war on Israel. Let’s hope Qatar continues to pay for the clearing of the rubble, still in piles, from his most recent effort to subdue Israel.

The major folly of the Palestinians’ leadership–across the generations and the political groupings–is to deny what Israel has accomplished, or even its legitimate existence.

The blather of “occupation” has not served them well. A more accurate description is that the territory of the West Bank beyond the 1967 lines is “disputed.” Palestinian claims of always being there are delusional nonsense. The roots of Arab individuals and families are not more clearly “on this land” than are those of Jews. Arabs, as well as Jews, have been moving forever. It’s not clear how many “Palestinians” were Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Turks, Central Asians, wandering Bedouin, or something else in generations past.

Muslims have a claim to a significant holy site in Jerusalem. Their folly is to deny anything equivalent to the history of the Jews.

The limited Oslo agreement of 1993 has guided government-sponsored Israeli settlement and provides substantial Palestinian autonomy, but it does not keep Israeli security forces from intervening when and where appropriate. Often that occurs with the tacit if the unacknowledged cooperation of Palestinian authorities.

The reality is a great deal of accommodation between Israel and Palestinians, despite the proclamations of those claiming leadership.

Palestinian aspirations for the conditions of 1967, 1947, or pre-Balfour 1917 are self-destructive in precluding serious negotiations.

Among the implications of Trump’s speech was advice that the Palestinians begin aspirations with the present, and not at a dim, confusing, and contentious past.

Past behavior suggests that few Palestinians will perceive the opportunity.

Palestinian authorities have declared Vice President Mike Pence as persona non grata in advance of his visit to the region.

That’s not the way to move forward.

Remember Abba Eban: they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Historical and current realities are far from clear or simple. The outlines of “Jerusalem” have changed numerous times since David, mythic or otherwise.  Likewise, which religious and secular authorities controlled what, when.

Best guesses are that nothing dramatic will change in the near future. The Presidential declaration was purely symbolic. The US and other governments have treated Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for decades. It’s here where visiting officials meet their Israeli counterparts.

The US government could move the Embassy from Tel Aviv in the 60 minutes it takes the Ambassador to drive from the present Embassy to the US Consulate in Jerusalem. However, the President indicated that it would take years for the planning and construction of an appropriate building, and the move of a thousand personnel from Tel Aviv.

That’s as much political as logistic. It signals to the parties that nothing is a done deal.

Symbols are important in politics, i.e., what is promised, or how it’s expressed, rather than what is actually delivered.

Trump’s promise, however it is interpreted, might produce nothing more than several days of commotion.

Jerusalem is a hot button for the Vatican, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, Evangelical Christians, as well as secular governments fearful of any spark that could ignite something they’ll have to deal with. However, each of those interested also has other concerns, and the confusion of multiple and competing options may get in the way of anything dramatic.

Thomas Friedman has not given up. His instant response was to chide Trump for giving Israel a gift, and demanding nothing in return. He overlooks the free lunch the Palestinians have received for decades, without concessions in return.

Jerusalem is as great a spiritual symbol as any place, but the world is more secular and calculating than in times past.

Sound and fury signifying nothing, Apocalypse, Final Coming, or simply one more period of clamor?.

Don’t expect the Messiah, whoever or whatever He, She, or It might be. Perhaps not until the end of time, if such a thing will occur.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post

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