President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is being widely criticized as a move that will damage efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Those who make this claim fail to understand the true obstacle to peace between these two peoples. Far from harming the prospects for peace, President Trump’s actions might finally make a deal possible.
Since the earliest days of this conflict, the Jews of Palestine (later the Israelis) have been willing to accept a state in only part of the Land of Israel. They’ve repeatedly offered to split the land they claim with the Arabs of Palestine (later the Palestinians). On five separate occasions — 1937, 1947, 1967, 2000, and 2008 — the Israelis offered the Palestinians a state of their own alongside Israel. In 1937, the compromise on offer would have given a full 70% of the land to the Arabs. The more recent offers contemplated a Palestinian state in almost all of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians said no to each of these offers. They said no to 70% of the land. They said no to 50% of the land. And they have said no to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas is still dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, and the Palestinian Authority still pays its citizens to murder Israelis.
Sure, Palestinian leaders including Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have participated in peace talks and spoken about recognition in general terms. They just could never bring themselves to accept a deal. And they never dropped their insistence on poison pills – such as a Palestinian right of return – that would ultimately turn a two-state solution into one Palestinian state in all of the land they claim.
The reason they turned these deals down had little to do with the specifics on offer. The internal debates and public statements surrounding these refusals point to a deeper issue. Since the conflict’s earliest days, too many Palestinian have linked their national aspirations to the dark dream of destroying Israel and ruling over all of the land they claim – every last inch.
At the heart of this Palestinian rejectionism is a refusal to recognize that the Jewish people also have rights in this contested land. This is why Palestinian leaders have insisted upon denying the obvious Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Yasser Arafat famously denied that there was ever a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas has called Jesus a Palestinian. And far from recognizing that Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Abbas has warned that Jews “have no right to desecrate” Jerusalem’s holy sites “with their filthy feet.”
Unless and until the dream of Palestinian independence is delinked from the denial of Jewish rights and the destruction of the Jewish state, there can certainly be a peace process but there will be no peace. The Palestinians of 2017 must recognize the reality the Jews saw back in 1937 – they must be willing to accept a state in only part of the land they claim.
When the world refuses to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, they don’t speed this day of peace. They merely postpone this necessary day of reckoning. They keep alive the Palestinian hope that they can erase Jewish history and reverse the Jewish return. With sometimes good intentions, those who seek to downplay the Jewish connection to Jerusalem nurture this dark dream of Palestinian nationalism.
Today, such enabling stopped. Today, the Palestinians were given a powerful dose of reality. Today, the greatest power in the world recognized the eternal capital of the Jewish people as the capital of the Jewish state.
No, the Palestinians might not internalize this decision. They may, God forbid, use it as yet another excuse for violence. But let’s not grow confused. This medicine of truth did not cause the underlying disease of denial.
And maybe – jut maybe – this reality will begin to take root. Maybe the Palestinians will belatedly begin to see the Jewish state as something permanent and even just. And maybe recognition of these facts will finally build a constituency for compromise that has been far too weak thus far.
If President Trump wants to succeed where his predecessors have failed, he must begin by addressing the underlying cause of Palestinian rejectionism. Yesterday he did exactly that. President Trump’s decision can wake the Palestinian leadership from their dark dream of destroying Israel. Let us pray it does.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel, an American pro-Israel organization.