U.S. supporters of Israel (which is to say a majority of Americans) must be puzzled—and even embarrassed—by the U.S. administration’s attempted micromanagement last week of Israel’s Jerusalem Day flag parade logistics.
In a gesture of unmitigated chutzpah, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides publicly asked Israel to reroute the march. Nides advised that Israel’s expression of pride at the reunification of its ancient capital should avoid the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Nides believed that marching along this route was likely to provoke Arabs there to riot, and could even trigger missile attacks from Hamas or Hezbollah—as occurred following last year’s Jerusalem Day march.
Israel rejected the American request and the march proceeded as planned, with minimal disruption thanks to meticulous police planning.
“I understand your concerns,” Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev told Nides, adding: “We are doing all we can to prevent friction and provocations.” The march, he told Nides, was a long-held tradition.
Then—amazingly—Bar-Lev felt the need to remind the American ambassador: “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
Though the U.S. Congress called for Jerusalem’s recognition as the capital of Israel in 1995 and set aside funds to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv, it wasn’t until 2018 under President Trump’s orders that the embassy was actually moved there.
In no place except Israel would a nation’s celebration of its own capital city be considered a trigger for criticism by an ally.
But America has a long history of criticizing Israel’s sovereign decisions regarding housing projects, and Israeli police actions in response to Arab rioting. Even Israeli Supreme Court decisions regarding legal issues like the Sheik Jarrah evictions of Arab squatters from Jewish-owned property have been described by State Department spokesmen as “unhelpful.”
Nides’ boss, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, repeatedly challenges Israel about actions he believes “endanger the two-state solution”—as if such a solution existed. Even if it did, the Palestinian Arabs and their leaders stand staunchly against any permanent “two-state solution.”
Later this month, President Biden is planning to visit Israel. Part of his Jerusalem itinerary includes eastern Jerusalem and the Old City. Biden’s advance planners have prohibited any Israeli government officials from accompanying the president on that part of his visit, lest it be viewed as “provocative.”
America—and its State Department—seem to have bought the false narrative that Israel dispossessed the Palestinians of Jerusalem (though they never controlled any of it) and that Israel was a colonial aggressor in reclaiming its patrimony. Despite all historical evidence to the contrary, Secretary Blinken and his team believe that if only Israel made sufficient concessions, peace would reign.
Palestinian missile attacks and terrorist attacks are dismissed by the United States as though they were just a young child’s tantrums. Genocidal proclamations and other threats of violence from Ramallah and Gaza are overlooked. Washington seeks a shared sovereignty arrangement for Jerusalem and the greater Holy Land. Yet the Palestinians announce in their media and mosques on a daily basis that no sharing is possible.
What began after the 1967 Six-Day War as an exclusive claim by Palestinians to the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount has now been extended to an asserted Palestinian possession of the entire Temple Mount. America seems unwilling to accept the idea that shared sovereignty of the site with the Palestinians is simply an invitation to perpetual bloody conflict.
Last year’s Jerusalem Day march was rerouted at America’s behest to avoid Arab neighborhoods, yet still provoked a missile barrage and an 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza. So much for appeasement.
Unsurprisingly, Israel’s sworn Arab enemies promised missile barrages and terror attacks again if Israel had the temerity to celebrate the reunification of its three-millennia-old capital city.
Hamas’s shrill calls for the “Palestinian people” to mobilize and confront “the storming by the Zionist colonial settlers” of Jerusalem were largely ignored this year.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas exhorted “his people” to “challenge” and “confront” the flag march. In P.A.-speak, these are calls for terror attacks and riots.
Not for the first time, Abbas was largely ignored by “his people.” Other than minor confrontations, there was no mass outbreak of violence.
The question looms: Why do so many in the current administration consider the status of Jerusalem—Israel’s capital for three quarters of a century—a controversial issue?
Jerusalem was declared Israel’s capital by David Ben-Gurion shortly after the 1948 War of Independence. But the armistice line—the so-called “Green Line”—drawn to conclude that war cut Jerusalem in half. The ancient and precious Old City was in the larger “West Bank” territory conquered and annexed by the Kingdom of Trans-Jordan. It made the U.N.’s Partition Plan of two states for two peoples null and void.
Under the terms of the U.N.-brokered 1949 armistice agreement, Israelis were promised free access to their holy sites, including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount itself. Instead, Jordan built a barbed-wire barrier blockading the Old City, and shot on sight any Jew trying to cross it. Jerusalem was a militarily partitioned city. Ancient Jewish synagogues and even cemeteries were desecrated.
Triumphing over the Arabs’ unsuccessful 1967 attempt to eradicate it, Israel reconstituted its historic capital on its indigenous land. It has restored access to members of all religious faiths. Annexing Jerusalem after the Six-Day War, Israel made clear that it would never surrender sovereignty over its eternal capital.
It is America and the Palestinians—not Israel—that must adjust to the reality of a unified Jerusalem. It would actually help the Palestinians understand what realistic conditions for a peace agreement are if President Biden and his State Department would acknowledge Israel’s permanent sovereignty over its capital city.
Unified Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, and America and the world must accept and respect Israel’s policies in the city—exactly as they do in other national capitals.
America’s apparent fantasy of a “shared” Jerusalem will never be permitted by an Israel that has seen its ancient capital torn apart, desecrated and forbidden to it so few years ago.
Ken Cohen is co-editor of the Hotline published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which offers educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.