In the week before the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem the city was awash in American flags. The pro-US sentiment of most Israeli Jews was clearly sincere and quite openly expressed. You might think most all Americans Jews would feel reciprocal joy at the upcoming move, but some didn’t. Instead they criticized the embassy move.
The embassy move was a good move though. It replaced the policy of non-recognition, a policy of diplomatic fiction that proved to be a complete failure. Non-recognition brought a series of intifadas, wars, and waves of terror over three decades, but it never came close to bringing peace. The “emperor has no clothes” analogy truly applies: the fawning advocates of non-recognition praise a moribund peace process that has long been a figment of wishful imagination.
Why did the policy of non-recognition fail so miserably? The reason is that it gave rejectionists a veto on negotiations. All they had to do to prevent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was to obstruct peace negotiations.
Many American Jews oppose recognition because they think it will destroy the “peace” process”, but their thinking is based on a naïve misunderstanding of negotiations. They implicitly believe in the “kindergarten teacher” model in which the United States behaves like a pre-school teacher trying to break up a sandbox fight between noisy children. Reality is not like that. Negotiations move forward when one side has beaten the other or when both sides have fought each other to a draw.
By trying to be evenhanded, previous US administrations simply convinced Palestinian leadership to wait and see if the US could be cajoled into twisting Israel’s arm further. The Palestinians reasonably tried to pocket any concessions and then make new demands and preconditions. This sort of process moves negotiations further away and undercuts Palestinians who may actually want to make peace. They cannot survive by taking a more moderate position against Israel than the US. If the US insists on a settlement freeze, that will be a minimal precondition for any Palestinian leader. It is the failure to see the negotiation in the context of game theory and negotiation strategy that is a major blind spot for many Jews who don’t agree with the embassy move.
Beyond sincere misunderstandings, there are other less noble reasons some Jews oppose the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Some do not want to participate in a bipartisan show of unity for a policy advanced by Trump. Not one Democrat from Congress showed up at the ceremony. Their absence sent a bad message. Fault goes both ways. The White House should have tried harder to get a bipartisan delegation to attend the opening ceremony. Still Jews should have been able to put the partisanship aside for this.
Possibly even more disturbing is the sense that some Jews are denying and disowning the strong Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Along with many Americans, they well understand that Jerusalem occupies a special place as the historic capital of Jewish kingdoms, and that Jewish kings ruled there, and that Jewish temples stood there. Most know that every day for two thousand years Jews have prayed daily to return to Jerusalem. They are also aware that Jews end every Passover Seder with the fervent declaration, “Next Year in Jerusalem”. Most also know the Jewish bond with Jerusalem extends beyond religious belief and beyond political affiliation. Going back to the 1880s, Jewish socialists who were atheists proclaimed their devotion to Zionism and the need for a Jewish state having Jerusalem as its rightful capital. They would know that the bond is far stronger than the English tie to London or the French connection to Paris. Yet Jews who were presumably aware of all this, who knew there was a deep connection between Jews and Jerusalem, still did not want the US to acknowledge it. Somehow the Jewish connection did not count: it was an old story written in an old book nobody cared about any more. Possibly some felt the need to prove their bona fides to social justice warrior confederates whose inter-sectionalist philosophy seems to require foremost a denunciation of Israel and disavowals of anything that might be good news for the Jewish state. Others may have absorbed a self-hatred or embarrassment at their Jewish roots. Whatever it is, Jews should be wary of those who would disavow or downplay the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
No one knows the future, but it is more than possible that the embassy move will lead to peace. The move creates incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate in earnest. Now that they can’t stop the US recognition and the embassy move, they may at least for now put destruction of Israel on the back burner in favor of a more immediate need to get the best deal they can. This is all about creating conditions where the Arab terrorists and rejectionists don’t hold veto power and that the larger populace on both sides starts to see a negotiated deal as the only realistic way to go. The policy of non-recognition failed. Now it’s time to try a different way. The embassy move to Jerusalem is a fresh approach. It is grounded in reality and in the eternal Jewish connection to the city. The American Jewish opponents of recognition need to “Give Peace a Chance”.