December 9, 2017

Trump on Jerusalem: He Got It Right!

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsNotwithstanding our considerable criticism of President Trump’s many and varied pronouncements, policies, tweets, and decrees, we think he got it right this time.

For seventy years the United Nations and the rest of the international community have considered Jerusalem (now, hold on to your hats) a corpus separatum (a separate body). With all due respect, we would suggest that this arcane and now meaningless designation, given the history of the region, has become an argumentum ad absurdum (when a belief leads to an obvious absurdity, then the belief is false).

Jerusalem is the seat of government of the State of Israel. That, by the way, is the only definition of a national capital. President Trump committed no calamity by stating the obvious. Jerusalem is where the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) is located, as is Israel’s Supreme Court, the offices of its Prime Ministers and Presidents.  It is Israel’s seat of government—its capital.  It is where dozens of other countries’ Presidents and Prime Ministers have come to address the Israeli people.  It is where Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went to propose peace and where dozens of other heads of state have come to address the Israeli people, including three Presidents of the United States, and the Presidents of Turkey, India, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Parliament, Canada, France, Poland, Kenya, Ukraine, Croatia, to name just some of the heads of state who have come to Jerusalem to address the Israeli government and the Jewish nation’s people.

Now, ironically, seventy years ago when the State of Israel was created by the United Nations, Israel accepted (somewhat reluctantly) the designation of Jerusalem as a so-called corpus separatum. The Arab States didn’t. The Arab states rejected everything the United Nations codified including the notion of Israel at all, or of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, or, for that matter, as an international city.

Instead, the entirety of Israel’s Arab neighbors went to war to destroy the new state and undo what the UN had promulgated. With that fateful decision by Israel’s Arab neighbors, all bets were off including Israel’s acceptance of her capital as a corpus separatum. But fate or, as some believe, divine providence, didn’t smile on the Arab world’s attempt to crush the infant State. Instead, the infant State prevailed and in the intervening years has developed into an incredibly strong, democratic, vibrant and stable nation.

It is worth remembering, however, that when the Arab league captured the old Jewish Quarter of the Old City during the fighting in 1947, they systematically destroyed and looted everything Jewish including fifty-eight synagogues. The Jordanian commander is quoted reporting, “For the first time in 1,000 years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews’ return here impossible.” The Hurva Synagogue, originally built in 1701 (about the time William Penn gave Pennsylvania its first constitution), was blown up by the Jordanian Arab Legion. During the years of Jordanian rule from 1947 until the six-day-war when Israel freed the old Jewish Quarter, a third of the Jewish Quarter’s buildings were demolished. All but one of the Jewish houses of worship in the Old City were destroyed. The synagogues were razed or pillaged and stripped. It is reported that their interiors were used as hen-houses or stables. So much for the corpus separatum.

We have read and listened to various correspondents and talking heads refer to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as another Trump blunder and as not being in America’s interest. Why is it not in America’s interest?  They say the decision will cause protests and bloodshed. Sadly, it already has. But it doesn’t take much at all to cause protest and bloodshed in this part of the world or wherever fanatics dwell. That is why, ten years ago, a benign cartoon in a Danish newspaper depicting the prophet Muhammad caused riots all over the world. More than 200 people died, and there were attacks on Danish and other European diplomatic missions. Churches and Christians were attacked, and a major international boycott was initiated. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the reaction to a newspaper’s cartoons as Denmark’s worst international relations incident since the Second World war.

We recognize that there are those public personalities and media representatives who will look at any pronouncement or decision made by President Trump as an opportunity to criticize him. That has become their mission. Lord knows we’ve done our share of criticizing. But those who are critical of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital because of the likelihood of protest and violence or the alienation of some, if not most, Arab nations would have used that concern to justify rejecting Israel’s statehood in the first place.

President Harry Truman made the decision to recognize Israel seventy years ago in the face of total opposition by his own Arabist state department.  George Marshall, our Secretary of State at the time, and one of the most revered Americans in the world was strongly opposed to Truman’s decision to recognize Israel at all. He felt we couldn’t antagonize 120 million Arabs over recognition of a tiny Jewish state in the former British Mandate, which was the successor to 400 hundred years of Ottoman rule. In fact, Secretary Marshall resigned over it. But President Truman was a far greater thinker than people gave him credit for at the time. He saw a bigger picture and had a greater sense of destiny.

Truman was correct then, and Trump is correct now.

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12 responses to “Trump on Jerusalem: He Got It Right!”

  1. Robert borns says:

    The Donald is proving once again that he makes the conceptual decisions correctly. And that is what makes a historically great president.

  2. Steve Prover says:

    Outstanding, very well researched piece. At the end of the day this action might actually hasten a settlement. Trumps action was courageous

  3. Jerry Halperin says:

    Right on guys. Excellent blog.

  4. Sheila Sloan says:

    Beautifully written. The critics of the decision to make Jerusalem the Capital of Israel should read this article.

  5. Marc Slavin says:

    Trump is a true friend of Israel. He’s has done more for Israel in 1 year than Obama did in 8 years in office (not). We finally have a President that understands how important Israel is to the middle east. Israel is the only nation (state) over there that has any sense of stability and reason.

  6. Perry Green says:

    This column should be in NY Times for wider circulation. Well done.

  7. SHEILA says:

    I respectfully disagree with your position on this issue, Hal. There are two issues here: the first is the ill-informed, misguided, if not catastrophic decision to join Netanyahu in declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The second is the giveaway.

    Jerusalem is certainly the emotional capital of Israel and is the de facto capital of Israel- for the Jewish people. But this is clearly not a black and white issue. The fact is that this land has been shared by and home to two peoples since ancient times — and this is not 1947. We now have Arab allies, who were utterly blindsided by this decision. East Jerusalem is the emotional center for the Palestinians — and a summary decision to declare and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv is nothing but inflammatory and destabilizing for the entire area, –as we now see. On paper, the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel may seem legitimate — but in the worst case scenario, it is a decision that could start another war. Think, Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000,
    also legitimate on paper, but a move that triggered the second intifada – a move which Sharon ultimately regretted.. Further, Trump’s decision was emotional rather than rational , and has damaged, if not obliterated the possibility for a two state solution. Trump must have known this—let’s hope someone would have advised him of this.

    The second issue is the giveaway: To paraphrase Tom Friedman (NY Times, Dec. 6), who stated the obvious much more eloquently than I can, Trump could have used this move to make the deal of the century with Netanyahu re: the settlements, at a minimum — instead, he gave away the entire ball game for free and has left nothing but chaos in his wake.

    In the meantime, we can only hope that in the next two years before the US embassy move, we can use this time to mitigate the impact of this decision. What are the odds?

    • We appreciate Sheila (10:20 AM) sharing her thoughts with us. No doubt they are, as usual, well-considered and heartfelt. In our view, however, they are simply wrong. Jerusalem is not simply the emotional capital of Israel as Sheila states. It is Israel’s seat of government as it has always been. Frankly, we doubt, that our Arab allies were blindsided. We suspect they have understood for a long time that Trump was going to keep this pledge. How could anyone have been blindsided? Trump did exactly what he said he was going to do. In fact, what almost all of our recent Presidents have said they were going to do. The Arab states may make the obligatory comments of concern, but we doubt anyone was blindsided. Sheila refers to Trump’s decision as “emotional”. We do not think anything about Trump’s decision was emotional. He acted on what he had pledged to do, and what Congress, for twenty-five years, has authorized evry President to do. Every President, intimidated by the fear of protest and violence has “put off” the decision at six-month intervals.
      As to the Tom Friedman position that Trump should have used the Jerusalem issue to make the deal of the century, we strongly disagree. What Trump has done is remove the question of Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government and, therefore, its capital from the bargaining table. After the illegal banishment of Jews from the Old Jewish Quarter and the utter desecration of everything Jewish in the Jewish quarter during the 19 years of Jordanian control, the “other side” has poor standing to do anything other than riot. Riot, or the threat of riot, has dictated American and Western policy long enough. The Palestinians can probably have a capital in some part of Jerusalem in a final and just peace, but as Arafat said when he was offered exactly that by an Israeli Prime Minister (Ehud Barak) — “If I agreed to an end to the conflict, I would be going home to my own funeral.” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has never been the real issue. The existence of the Jewish state at all has always been the real issue.

  8. judy allen says:

    We may not always appreciate our President’s efforts….because he is not “Presidential” . Difficult to criticise his courage this time. Wonderful Column as usual….

  9. Mike Swirnoff says:

    Hal, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that “[Trump] got it right this time.” It make no diplomatic or strategic sense to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (which, of course, it is) and to agree to move our embassey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem without first getting come commitment from Israel to curtail its settlements or some other concession that might be relevant in any eventual agreement with the Palestinians. As Richard Haass said this morning on the Fareed Zakaria show, the good news is that Trump used some diplomacy; the bad news is that it was lousy diplomacy.

    • We must disagree with Mr. Swirnoff for whom we have great respect, and with Mr. Haass. We watched Fareed Zakaria’s interview with Mt. Haass with considerable interest. Indeed, Mr. Haass did refer to President Trump’s recognition of Israel’s capital as Israel’s capital as “unproductive.” We presume, therefore, that he considers our prior 70- year old-position regarding Israel’s capital as a corpus Separatum to be, by comparison, “productive.” Another consequential figure of the 20th century declared that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. His name was Albert Einstein. The corpus separatum has no redeeming value and it never did. It belongs on the trash heap of history as the argumentum ad absurdum that it is.

  10. Harriet says:

    Hal. Brett Stephen’s column several days ago pretty much mirrored your thoughts.

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