At the Geneva Peace Conference in 1973, Abba Eban quipped that the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Will Israel now miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity?
The WSJ (Wall Street Journal, Tuesday May 16, 2017) featured a column about changes in the Arab world. You may recall that Dennis Ross, when he spoke here in St. Louis last fall, briefly noted internal changes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States’ (Sunni) change in attitudes toward Israel, particularly due to the Iranian (Shi’ite) threat. The article reported about clandestine visits and the sharing of military intelligence.
In addition, the article stated that the Arab offer may include “establishing telecommunication links, allowing overflight rights to Israeli aircraft, and lifting restrictions on some trade.” The Arab states would want in return a peace overture to the Palestinians, including “stopping construction of certain settlements in certain areas of the West bank and allowing for freer trade into the Gaza Strip.”
Amidst this comes President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel this week and the possible US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Eugene Kontorovitch, whom I have cited in other articles, urges President Trump to do it. The Russians just did last week, albeit West Jerusalem. Kontorovitch rejects the idea that terrorism against American targets would increase and that US diplomacy would be undermined with a vague statement that there have been “massive changes in the region since 1995.”
Similarly, a WSJ editorial urges President Trump not to break his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They contend that it would “break the peace-process gridlock” and would show Palestinians that “the wheels of history are not moving in their favor.” These, in my opinion, are ill-conceived points of view. Competing with the Russians is no reason to push a foolish policy, and the Palestinians are not likely to move as the WSJ hopes. These analyses are incredibly shallow and weak.
The Arab street has a history of violent, emotional responses to what they regard as provocations, whether or not they are true. Riots at the Temple Mount over a mere visit by Ariel Sharon, and intifadas, even when organized by Palestinian leadership, are recent examples.
Emotionally, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be deeply satisfying. The Jewish heart, and all Zionists, Christian and Jewish, would celebrate. But it would accomplish little. The Arab street would be aroused and cooperation with Arabs would be much more difficult. It would more likely undermine the current situation, unite divided Arabs, and focus attention away from Syria, Isis, and Iran. Lives, on all sides, will be lost, needlessly.
That does not mean that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is not important. Its time will eventually come. Diplomatically, it should be used in response to Arab-Palestinian gambits for international solutions as a substitute for direct negotiations for a genuine peace. That President Trump appears to be willing to do it is itself a useful tool. Indeed, we’d be far closer to peace if the Europeans had stood up to Arab-Palestinian propaganda and pressured them to directly negotiate a genuine peace with Israel rather than funding terrorism (indirectly) and supporting one-sided claims.
At a time when Sunni Arab leaders are moving to Israel diplomatically, and are offering steps toward normalization and engaging in strategic cooperation, Israeli leaders should not undermine their efforts by failing to constructively engage or by pushing for recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. In fact, they should urge President Trump to wait. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.