by Guest Contributor
The news of President Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s claim to the city of Jerusalem as its capital and to relocate the U.S. embassy there has been met with shock domestically and abroad. Despite the consensus of the international community in condemning the policy change, commentators such as Jonathan S. Tobin and David French in their National Review editorials have lauded the move, claiming that it is simply a symbolic recognition of the reality on the ground that Jerusalem in its entirety has long been under Israeli control. French even goes as far as implying that opposition to the move is tantamount to anti-Semitism. As an American Jew and former Israel Defense Forces sergeant, I find these assertions presumptuous and ill-informed. However well-intentioned they may be, such myopic rhetoric threatens the long-term viability of a democratic Jewish state. Mortgaging moral principle to gain a symbolic victory on the status of Jerusalem is not worth the lives that will invariably be lost in the fallout on the streets.
President Trump made no distinction between East and West Jerusalem, which renders the recognition of Jerusalem as being of the city as a whole, in direct opposition to decades of U.S. and international policy and the stipulations put forth in the Oslo Accords that call for Jerusalem to be subject to final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians, who have already taken to the streets en masse to protest the decision, will surely view this as a rejection of their national claims, adding fuel to calls within the Palestinian camp for a one-state solution in which everyone between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is granted Israeli citizenship and the rights thereof, effectively dissolving Israel’s character as a Jewish state.
Even the most jaded of observers of the peace process would find themselves hard-pressed to deny that this recognition paints the United States as something less than an honest broker between the Israelis and Palestinians, with no mention on Trump’s part of Palestinian national claims to the eastern portions of the city which are Israel proper in name only and perhaps the most critical of issues in the peace process.
During my two years of service in the IDF, and three-and-a-half years total in Israel, I was presented with a unique opportunity to experience the realities of life within the country itself, the military, and the occupied territories, and to get a sense of the various constituent groups through their culture and politics. Despite Israel’s reputation as a liberal, Western, and democratic country, it is almost entirely segregated; Jerusalem serves as a microcosm of this, with the impoverished and almost entirely Arab East Jerusalem being Israel in name only. Schools are officially segregated not merely between Jews and Arabs, but even between the religious and secular. Acceptance committees for residential communities openly and proudly discriminate based on race, religion, class, and ethnic background. Laws give preferential treatment to Jewish citizens, which is to say that they discriminate against non-Jewish citizens—an idea that enjoys the support of an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews—which is to be expected from a state founded on the ideals of ethnic and religious nationalism, Blood and Soil.
In my years of experience in Israel, I’ve come to see that there exists an embedded notion of superiority in both the Israeli and Palestinian psyches, with both groups generally viewing and portraying the other as something perhaps less than human and an interloper on the land. Israeli society operates under the messianic notion of Kibbutz Galuyot, the in-gathering of the exiles, in that the Jews are returning home and have an extralegal, even divine, right to all of the historic biblical Land of Israel. By some, Arabs are viewed as a foreign, invasive infection to be removed.
Similarly, some Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have come to advocate for a one-state solution, or even the outright conquering of Israel and removal or subjugation of the local Jewish population.
It is precisely because of Israel’s self-characterization as a Jewish state that the concept of a two-state solution was a gift to Israel, a concession to their claims to the land and self-determination. The long-term repercussions of the United States undoing decades of foreign policy and peace-building by endorsing Israel’s claim in defiance of international legal agreements can not be overstated. This may very well prove to be the death knell for prospects of a two-state solution, a plan which is in Israel’s best interests, whether its opponents realize it or not. When Israelis celebrate this decision to recognize Jerusalem and further ensnare themselves in this intractable and interminable conflict over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they prove themselves incapable of seeing that they’re endangering the future of their state. All tactics, no strategy—they stand to lose what they have because they want it all. Between the civil unrest, increased terror threat, severe damage to the likelihood of a two-state solution, and a continued march towards Israeli international isolation and impending one-state solution, no one stands to gain from this impulsive and harmful move.