Remembering Jerusalem

The Israelis, whom I love more than life itself, are doing it again.

That thing they do when someone, anyone, even a total nishtgutnick like Donald Trump, comes along and tosses them a few warm words. Their little hearts leap to be told that, on balance, all things being equal, they have a right to exist, perhaps even to defend themselves, and that calls for their destruction are jolly well not on. Recognition is a miser’s feast but Israel gorges on it like a banquet.

They are dining out on Donald Trump’s proclamation ‘that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and that the United States Embassy to Israel will be relocated to Jerusalem as soon as practicable’. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it ‘a historic day’. President Reuven Rivlin said there was ‘no more fitting or beautiful gift, as we approach 70 years of the State of Israel’s independence’. The walls of the Old City were illuminated with Israeli and American flags in celebration.

Barely had the timbrels begun jangling than Donald Trump signed a waiver deferring relocation of the embassy for another six months. American foreign policy was changing in tone but not in substance. The Israelis’ jubilation was matched only by the apocalyptic hysteria of those on the other side; not just the Palestinians but Israel’s true mortal enemies: the foreign policy establishment.

An orchestra of malediction was struck up by the diplomatocracy, the academics, and the New York Times, a sure sign that the President had made the right call. European politicians echoed the denunciations and, after some speed-reading of Vox, were joined by the woke commentariat, who explained this was all about *checks hand* evangelical Christians and *squints* dispensationalism.

Donald Trump’s proclamation was neither Zionist heroics nor reckless grenade-throwing. It was a mundane acknowledgement of the law. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which required the United States to recognise Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy there. Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama all endorsed the principle of the statute but invoked its national security clause to defer relocation. The only difference between Donald Trump and his predecessors is that he issued his proclamation in writing, rather than as an applause line in a speech to AIPAC. The embassy remains in Tel Aviv and likely will for years to come.

The histrionics are unnecessary but to be expected where Israel is involved. The international community is obsessively ignorant about the Jewish state, checking in occasionally to lecture an embattled liberal outpost on the proper etiquette for preventing its children from being blown up. This engenders a reflexive idiocy that treats absurd banalities as wise statecraft. Those who insisted for years that the peace process was dead now say that Trump has killed it. Those who asserted that US foreign policy was controlled by the Israel lobby now lament the surrender of America’s neutrality. Those who championed recognition of Palestine without negotiations are suddenly sceptical about unilateralism.

Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote to Donald Trump to warn that implementing the Jerusalem Embassy Act would ‘spark violence and embolden extremists’. Dianne Feinstein voted for the Jerusalem Embassy Act.

The Palestinians have threatened to respond with rage and unrest. Or ’Thursday’ as it’s otherwise known. So little is expected of them that the threat of violence is seen as a reasonable response to Trump’s proclamation. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, now in the second decade of his four-year term in office, accused the United States of walking away from the peace process and undermining the security of the region. Donald Trump has appropriated Palestinian culture.

There is a polite, cuddly racism to the way their international admirers treat the Palestinians. Their anti-Semitism is excused as an outgrowth of the occupation. Their rejection of every peace offer is blamed on the Israelis. Their proposal for a Judenrein Palestine, in which Jews are forbidden to live, is tolerated by those who freely accuse Israel of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

Palestinian national identity was forged in rejection of Zionism and there it has wallowed ever since. Over the years their myriad patrons, from the Soviets to the Europeans to the UN, have indulged Palestinian extremism in pursuit of the cause and so the Palestinians have become more extreme and the cause ever more distant. Donald Trump has only broken from the bipartisan consensus insofar as he decided to treat the Palestinians like grown-ups.

The Palestinians deserve a homeland but they cannot have someone else’s, and Jerusalem is someone else’s capital. Yes, it is a sacred place for the three Abrahamic faiths — something Israel protects fiercely — but it belongs to only one of them. There is an error in the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which states that it has been the capital of Israel since 1950. In fact, it has been the capital since 1,000 BC, when King David conquered the city. In the three millennia that followed, Jerusalem has been home to King Solomon’s Temple and within it the Ark of the Covenant, to the Second Temple and the Great Sanhedrin. It has been sacked, burned, occupied, and its Jews expelled but in that time it has never been the capital of any other sovereign nation.

For two thousand years of exile, Jews ended their Passover with the cry ’next year in Jerusalem’ and the city’s Temple Mount and Western Wall were focal points for their prayers and hopes. As instructed by the Psalm, they forgot not Jerusalem and placed it above their chiefest joy. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel but more than that it is the spiritual heart of Judaism.

If the world struggles to accept this, it is not half as much as the Israelis do. They know the land is theirs. They know they are meant to be there. Still they crave approval and that is what Trump’s proclamation represents to them. They should recall instead the words of David Ben-Gurion: ‘What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.’ Nothing Donald Trump says, nothing the international community does, not a single rocket from Gaza nor resolution from Turtle Bay will change the only fact on the ground that matters: Jerusalem is the home of the Jewish people and they will never be exiled again.

A version of this appeared in The Spectator

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