December 8, 2017 — Berlin, Germany
There are few cities in the world that elicit the emotions of Jerusalem, a uniquely beautiful and mystical site perched on a plateau in the Judean hills. There are deep historic ties amongst Judaism, Christianity and Islam to Jerusalem. Therefore, the strong reaction to and protest about President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, was not unexpected.
There are many reasons for caution in dealing with the status of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to which the Palestinians also lay claims. However, there are also reasons that the U.S. government took a logical step stating the obvious, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
No Preemption of the Two-State Solution
It was long time to stop the subterfuge and hypocrisy surrounding the status of the current state of Israel. The time was long due to stop denying full legitimacy to a country recognized by the United Nations in 1948 by refusing to acknowledge its capital.
The embassy will presumably be located in west Jerusalem, which is indisputably part of the state of Israel. This move in no way precludes discussions about final borders and the ultimate status of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital.
This was made clear by U.S President Donald Trump, when he called Jerusalem’s borders “one of the most sensitive issues” and declared that “any final status issues… are up to the parties involved.” The Czech Foreign Ministry took a similar line of argument hours after President Trump’s announcement, stating that the Czech Republic also intends to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The decision has the potential to breathe new life into the decades-long stalemate regarding the long- frozen peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As in chess, a surprise move can sometimes move a seemingly locked situation forward.
Undoubtedly, there are risks, as can be seen with the protests throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Particularly the more moderate Arab countries should demonstrate leadership and not claim to be the victims of the famed “Arab street.” While overnight miracles are not possible, there is no doubt that these governments can send more moderate messages to control the reaction.
Europe and Germany should stay engaged and close ranks against incitement
If Europe is serious about helping move forward a discussion on a two-state solution, it needs to start acknowledging the shifting realities on the ground. Israel is no longer an isolated pariah but an integral partner of new security arrangements, with ever closer ties to numerous neighboring countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. Israel’s bi-lateral security cooperation with Germany and other European countries is ever stronger in an era where terrorism is a global threat. Moreover, the Mideast is currently torn asunder by Iranian regional ambitions, the civil war in Syria, the remaining force of ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups, the widespread abuse of human rights, and the lack of human development and perspectives to join the global economy for the Mideast’s large youth work force.
Regarding the decision on U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the focus must now be on countering the growing agitation amongst many in the Arab world. European governments should not simply resign themselves to the announced "Days of Anger" as an inevitable response to Donald Trump's initiative; instead, they should severely condemn outbreaks of violence and incitement, including the posting of a violent and antisemitic caricature on Twitter by Fatah, Palestinian President Abbas’ party.
The U.S. and Israel in particular look toward Germany to take a stand against such hateful rhetoric. Here, the German government can play an important role, for instance by suspending the portion of its payments to the Palestinian Authority that is used to pay pensions to families of terrorists. The PA should also be pressured to revise textbooks that depict Israel as an enemy and incite hatred of Israel and Jews, as a new study from the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) in Jerusalem documents.
Peace Begins at the Negotiating Table
European governments should no longer accept the Arab world’s perpetual hostility towards Israel or the Palestinians’ financial rewards for terrorism. Instead, they should insist the Palestinians return to the negotiating table and demonstrate their intention to achieve a durable and long-lasting peace with Israel as a neighboring state.
The issue will ultimately only be solved via direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, setting the record straight, as the U.S. government has just done by announcing a move of its embassy to Jerusalem, creates the political clarity in which discussions can move forward. It is time for Europe to recognize the new realities in the region and, together with the U.S., work toward a two-state solution as part of a new and more just order in the Mideast.