The House at 18 Rehov Agron
Despite the fact that more than 70% of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump continues receiving the strong support of about a quarter of that community. And for two reasons: 1) he is perceived as being "the best friend Israel ever had in the White House," and 2) he is neither Barack Obama nor HIllary Clinton, whom a strong majority of those polled continue believing are profoundly anti-Israel. Indeed, so absolutely central is Israel to the politics of Trump's Jewish supporters that they are more than willing to overlook '45's questionable ethics, personal boorishness and relationship with the truth in exchange for what they perceive as his unfaltering support for the Jewish State. Throughout the 2016 presidential primary and general election, the one-time television star promised that if elected, his very first day in office would see him officially move America's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It should be noted that just about every Republican who ran in the 2016 primary made the exact same promise. And although '45 did not announce the move on his very first day in office, he did eventually make it official - on December 6, 2017.
Even before the December announcement, '45 had drawn praise from Israeli P.M. Benyamin Netanyahu for delivering what he termed "the most bold and courageous and forthright speech" delivered by an American President at the United Nations. In that September speech, '45 roundly and loudly called the Iranian nuclear deal the worst, most disgraceful pact ever signed by an American president. Coupled with his officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, '45's stock with his Jewish supporters became even stronger. It should be noted that 23 years ago - during Bill Clinton's first term in office - Congress passed the "Jerusalem Embassy Act," (Public Law 104-45) which officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and called for the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Every six months from November 1995 (when the law was enacted) until December 2017 (when '45 made his announcement) presidents Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama signed waivers putting off the relocation, fearing that it would be an impediment to Middle East peace talks.
The United States has had a diplomatic presence in Israel - and before that, Palestine - since 1844. From 1857 to the late 19th century, the American diplomatic "mission" was located in a building just inside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City. In 1912, the mission relocated to its present location on 18 Rehov Agron, a substantial home built by a German Lutheran missionary in 1866. The mission was officially designated a consulate in 1928. The United States, along with 85 other countries currently, have their embassies in Tel Aviv. (Before 1980, a number of countries, including the Netherlands and Costa Rica, maintained embassies in Jerusalem; for the past 37 years, that number has been zero.) In 1989, Israel began leasing to the US a plot of land in Jerusalem for a new embassy. The 99-year lease cost $1 per year. To this day, the plot has not been developed, and remains an empty field. If, when and for how much the new embassy will be built is still a matter of gross speculation - despite the December 6 announcement. (The other day, speaking with P.M. Netanyahu, '45 boasted that the cost of a new facility would be $250,000. Actually, he was citing a ballpark figure for renovating and adding to an existing facility at 14 David Flusser to use as a temporary embassy. Cost of a newly-constructed embassy has been estimated at anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion.)
What is definitely not a matter of speculation is the monkey wrench the president's announcement has thrown into the future of any and all future peace talks. As a result of taking this preemptive, unilateral step, the United States has lost its diplomatic edge. It will be increasingly difficult - if not impossible - for America to bring opposing factions to the table for serious discussions. To the rest of the world, America has already cast a major point of contention - the status of Jerusalem - in case-hardened concrete, so why even negotiate? '45 once described the prospect of a peace pact between Israelis and Palestinians as the “ultimate deal,” a foundational diplomatic breakthrough that could burnish his presidency and help restore America’s standing in the world. With the December announcement, the United States has become diplomatically isolated and toothless, the president something approaching a sideshow oddity.
While from a point of pure idealism it is both proper and fitting that the United States should be the first country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital; one democracy standing in support of another. From a point of realpolitik it creates an international path underlain with political IEDs. America's decades-long role as the undisputed, evenhanded, leader in Middle East mediation efforts has been dangerously and significantly undercut. Already, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has turned to other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Jordan's King Abdullah, to help pressure Trump to change his mind. The chances of their having any influence over the American president are slim to none. The fact that the President's unilateral action has made Israel into even more of a pariah nation will likely have little if any effect on Donald Trump; so long as he is lionized by the likes of Netanyahu, Sheldon Adelson, as well as his hardcore Jewish and evangelical Christian supporters that should be sufficient.
One of the most maddening aspects of all this is the ever-widening gap being created within the American Jewish community itself. For in the opinion of many of the most vocal, even the slightest disagreement over how Israel carries out its political mission is tantamount to an excommunicable offense (חֵרֶם - cherem). In a time in which antisemitism is growing at an alarming pace, it is indeed disgusting that some of it should be coming from the Jewish community itself. Just because an individual does not agree with, say, the Israeli government increasing the number of settlements, does not make them a self-hating Jew or worse, a traitor. But that is what many of us are being accused of with regards to the latest disagreement over moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.
If there will ever be a workable solution to the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians, it will take a strong, steady hand at the helm. Ever since the December 6, 2017 announcement, just whose hand that will be has become anyone's guess.
Please Mr. President: you've made a steady habit of changing your position on a whole host of issues. Why not keep up your record?
415 days down, 1,142 days to go.
Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone