Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

An enormous amount has been written about President Trump’s announcement about the U. S.’s moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Almost all of it has been completely predictable and I haven’t learned a great deal from it other than that Tom Friedman is a terrible negotiator.

The one piece that I liked was Shadi Hamid’s piece at the Atlantic. He opens with something that is obvious but, judging from the opinion pieces I’ve read, may come to many as a bolt from the blue—other Arab leaders don’t give a darn about the Palestinians:

Most Arab countries won’t care much about Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which might seem counterintuitive. The official announcement, though, comes at an important and peculiar time, when Arab regimes—particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt—find themselves more aligned than ever with Israel on regional priorities. They all share, along with the Trump administration, a near obsession with Iran as the source of the region’s evils; a dislike, and even hatred, of the Muslim Brotherhood; and an opposition to the intent and legacy of the Arab Spring.

and he closes with an expression of bewilderment or, possibly, rhetorical opposition:

To be sure, Arabs are preoccupied with their own domestic problems, and the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been overstated. But the status of Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, has a way of resonating and sharpening divides. Why even test the proposition? Trump’s move on Jerusalem isn’t the end of the world or even the end of the peace process—which has been a fiction for some time now—but why give extremists or even non-extremists another way to stoke anti-American sentiment? Why further undermine an already undermined Palestinian Authority? If only there were Arab governments that were confident, cared about actual Muslims, and could reflect and convey the frustration that no doubt many Arabs will be feeling in the days and weeks ahead. That Arab world, as we’ve been reminded this week, does not exist.

Why, indeed? What does Trump want to accomplish by the move? Maybe, as his detractors could claim, it’s just another irrational tropism by Trump. Just for fun let’s assume it isn’t.

I tend to believe that domestic politics is always the best explanation of an American president’s actions whether in domestic policy or foreign policy. In the U. S. Israel is a wedge issue, dividing some Jews and evangelicals on the one hand from other Jews and progressives on the other. The Republican Party has been expressing unswerving support for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Likud for some time. The move may just be another step in that direction.

What message if any would the move send to the Chinese? It might be that Trump isn’t Clinton, Bush, or Obama.

I continue to have no opinion on this issue but the implications of this story for American politics and policy does interest me.

17 comments… add one
  • Modulo Myself

    It’s not some Jews from other Jews–it’s younger Jews from older Jews. This is a generational, and it’s not only Israel. The Republican Party is the party of people over 60 who watch lots of television, and nothing else. I don’t think the cynical feeble symbolism of this is aimed at anyone other than the viewers in America. I don’t think it’s changing anything or it’s meant to do anything, other than to float there, for a moment, for old people.

    And the peace process has long been dead, because Israel has no intention of ever giving up an inch of territory or control in the West Bank.

  • And the peace process has long been dead, because Israel has no intention of ever giving up an inch of territory or control in the West Bank.

    Add to that the Palestinians have terrible governance and do not accept the idea of there being a Jewish state in historical Palestine and I’d agree with it.

    John Burgess, a career diplomat who was in the room when the Camp David Accords were negotiated, claimed that there was a possible deal to be made. All that needed to happen was for the U. S. to fork over enough money. I was skeptical but that’s what he said.

  • Modulo Myself

    Arafat was a crook, no doubt. But Fatah has done exactly what Israel has wanted and in return they’ve gotten nothing.

    I’ve never bought recognizing Israel as being all that important. In 1967? Sure. But now? Israel has nuclear weapons and computer viruses. What do the Palestinians have? A few chintzy missiles. Israel has never wanted to give up their territory and their dreams of a greater Israel, and that’s become the main issue.

    And I’m not sure what deal for the Palestinians would have come out of meetings in which they were not involved.

  • Let me expand on the concept of good governance. The Palestinian territories don’t have a government at all. They have criminal gangs that fight each other as well as the Israelis. They can’t deliver what Israel demands which is for Palestinians to stop bombing them and killing Israelis.

    The reality on the ground is that the Israelis aren’t going anywhere. Frankly, I think we’re too cozy with Netanyahu and Likud and maybe with Israel more generally but that’s another subject.

    Americans tend to view the whole situation through two extremely distorted prisms. One of the prisms is as a colonialism narrative. The Israelis aren’t colonizers. Most of the Israelis are Sephardic Jews whose fathers or grandfathers were ejected from the Arab Middle East and North Africa but who have many cultural similarities with the Arabs of the Middle East. The other prism is an Exodus narrative which is just as far-fetched.

    My own view is that Israel is another country. It’s not the United States. Their interests are not our interests. Our interests sometimes coincide and in those cases we should support them. Much of the time our interests do not coincide.

  • Modulo Myself

    That’s the thing–this is very generational. Older people see the Palestinians as eternal threats to Israel. Younger people see Palestinians in the horror of Gaza and the Fatah-Israel run occupation of the West Bank as marginal figures. Younger people also think this is due to race, colonialism, and empire–take your pick. And Israel has basically written its own propaganda against it by going on wanton killing sprees that serve no purpose except vengeance.

  • Modulo Myself

    One of the prisms is as a colonialism narrative. The Israelis aren’t colonizers. Most of the Israelis are Sephardic Jews whose fathers or grandfathers were ejected from the Arab Middle East and North Africa but who have many cultural similarities with the Arabs of the Middle East.

    This is not even meaningful. Israel was founded by actual Europeans who viewed the Palestinians as irritants. The country has evolved–good and bad–from that position.

  • More than 70% of Israelis are Sephardim. It’s relevant.

    The United States was founded by a bunch of WASPs. Now WASPs are a minority and who founded it just isn’t that important.

  • Modulo Myself

    As far as America goes, Israel has long served as a mirror. Americans have long wanted to see themselves as innocent inheritors of power, rather than a country that enslaved and killed its way west. This fiction is no longer operative in any form other than the shabbiest.

  • PD Shaw

    On the domestic side, what interests me is that American law required the President to move the embassy to Jerusalem by 1999, with the deadline subject to suspension by the POTUS every six months. Frankly a six-month suspension seems pretty short, particularly given that Presidents Clinton through Trump have apparently issued the suspension over three-dozen times. The framework suggests that “national security” means whether the embassy can be safely manned and not vulnerable in the event of another intifadah.

    What “national security” means to others though is probably different. Running through the Mead categories:

    The Wilsonian believes that peace through international consensus is an imperative for security everywhere. Precedents and slippery slopes abound.

    The Hamiltonians are probably indifferent, unless its perceived as posing a threat to the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, which it doesn’t at this point.

    Jacksonians support the move as plain common sense, and if the people who hate America, burn their flags, and blow up their embassies don’t like it, then [middle finger].

    Jeffersonians are probably largely indifferent, but would tend to think the embassy should be where the head of state is located and would not care what other countries are doing. If the embassy would be at risk of being bombed, consider not having an embassy.

  • Presumably, the Wilsonians would support the UNSC declaration that divided Jerusalem. Concur on Hamiltonians and Jacksonians.

    Jeffersonians probably concur with me (I consider myself a Jeffersonian). I don’t care where the embassy is located but I do care about the rule the law and more than a score of waivers isn’t compatible with it. Either the law should be repealed, the embassy moved, or the law opposed in court.

  • PD Shaw

    The rule of law issue is a little hazy because the law includes waiver provisions, but how about I restate a Jeffersonian view as (a) giving more significance to legislative will than the other views, (b) being more suspicious of expansive interpretations of executive authority, and (c) ultimately unlikely to find anything wrong about moving the embassy because that was the primary purpose of the law.

  • Andy

    The peace process has been dead a long time despite US attempts to revive it. The main problem is that there is no one on the Palestinian side to can make a deal. Israel has, quite obviously, exploited this lack of Palestinian political cohesion through creeping normalcy and changing facts on the ground.

    Anyway, I think the motivation for this was clearly domestic politics (I still remember the unseemly reverence many in the GoP had for Bibi when Pres. Obama was in office), but the whole thing is a big gamble. It’s not just about the Palestinians or even the peace process, but primarily about the future status of a disputed holy site and that concerns most Muslims and Jews and even some Christians.

  • Andy

    And what may ultimately happen is nothing – this could be just an announcement followed by more waivers for the rest of Trump’s term.

  • And what may ultimately happen is nothing – this could be just an announcement followed by more waivers for the rest of Trump’s term.

    This whole brouhaha may be just as simple as that Trump just found out that he needs to submit a waiver and he’s trying to turn it into a political plus.

  • mike shupp

    Jerusalem’s status as actual/potential capitol of Israel has been up in the air since 1967 — a reasonably long period, but that particular potato has stayed especially hot. And it’s always been argued by diplomats and political science professors and other foreign policy wonks, in the USA and elsewhere, that Jerusalem should NOT be made the capitol because it will enflame Palestinians and most other Moslems around the world. And this has been US policy since 1949 or so.

    So why did Congress pass a law requiring the US to accept Jerusalem as capitol of Israel? Cynic that I am, it strikes me this is akin to Congress repealing Obamacare at roughly monthly intervals — it makes many Jewish and Evangelical Christian voters happy, and it’s absolutely free of consequences, since the State Department and the people in the White House can be relied upon to ignore such resolutions. Until now, anyhow.

    So now Donald Trump can fulfill a campaign promise, making Sherman Adelson and countless Evangelicals happy. On the one hand, he shows the world what a bold decisive leader he is. On the other hand, he is a faithful public servant obeying the dictates of Congress, He at least, unlike the pretentious Bill Clinton and the wimpy pair of Bushes and that obnoxious Kenyan, has been both courageous and law abiding. Everyone should praise him, or reveal how small and petty we are by carping about his accomplishment.

    And note that not a US soldier died to make this great change, not a dollar of currency had to be spent. A forthright decision, a few twitters — and the deed is done! That’s what Greatness means.

  • Gray Shambler

    Ivanka and Jarrod asked him to.

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