President Trump Wednesday became the first U.S. president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the process would begin to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move hailed in Israel as a stepping stone to peace but fiercely condemned by the Palestinians.
“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” said Trump during a White House statement Wednesday afternoon.
He also said recognizing Jerusalem as the capital means the U.S. will be moving its embassy there.
“Consistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” said Trump.
Retired Israeli Brigadier General Elihu Ben-Onn is now a radio talk show host in Jerusalem. He says Trump’s announcement is of great historical significance.
“For us, it’s a very important day,” said Ben-Onn. “I’m very happy with the announcement of President Trump. This is history after all. Now, for the first time in 70 years, we hear that the President of the United States declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of of the state of Israel.”
Ben-Onn says Israeli claim on Jerusalem does not just date back to the creation of the modern state of Israel following World War II, but thousands of years.
“I live in Jerusalem. I was born in Jerusalem, and all my family is in Jerusalem. Also, I know that King David was here 3,000 years ago. King David and the Jewish people were here for so many years, so many decades. It is clear to everyone that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and the Jewish people,” said Ben-Onn.
The Old Testament dates the connection back several centuries before David, beginning with God’s call for Abraham to get up and go to the land of Canaan.
Given that historical connection, Ben-Onn hopes Trump’s decision will be followed by the decision of many other nations to move their embassies to Jerusalem.
“All Israelis believe that Jerusalem is our capital. The government is here. The parliament is here. All the embassies are in Tel Aviv but they go every day to Jerusalem. What kind of game is this? Maybe today this game and this hypocrisy will end,” said Ben-Onn.
He says there were some embassies in Jerusalem decades ago. However, following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Ben-Onn served, pressure from Arab states compelled those nations to move their installations to Tel Aviv.
In his announcement, President Trump also argued that recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is an important step in the peace process. Ben-Onn agrees.
“If you do not recognize my capital city, how can you sign a peace treaty with the state of Israel. Peace is like marriage. It’s like a wedding. The two sides have to recognize the rights of the other side for the right to exist,” said Ben-Onn.
“As long as the Palestinians and the Arabs before that didn’t recognize the state of Israel and the capital of Jerusalem, wee couldn’t go forward. Now I believe President Trump opened a new direction for peace,” said Ben-Onn.
That’s not how the Palestinians see it. Those leaders are calling for three “days of rage.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says this action eliminates the United States as a credible mediator in the peace process and will lead to “endless wars.”
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is taking it much further. He tells Haaretz that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem means the Palestinians are no longer seeking a two-state solution but a future in which Israel does not exist.
“President Trump has delivered a message to the Palestinian people: The two-state solution is over. Now is the time to transform the struggle to one of one state with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine, from the river to the sea,” said Erekat.
While concerned about the immediate reaction, Ben-Onn hopes the Arabs and Palestinians see Wednesday’s developments as a major opportunity.
‘I believe the Arab states will not do anything but maybe the radical Palestinian groups will try. But I’m sure that they will stop because they have more to lose than to win if they start violence,” said Ben-Onn.
If a two-state solution is still on the table, how will Israel deal with the Palestinian demand that the capital of a Palestinian state be East Jerusalem?
Ben-Onn says with the compressed geography of the region, the Palestinian capital could be very close to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a clear fact. Everybody knows that. Which part, North or South, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Abu Dis to the east, will be the future capital of the Palestinian state if they will agree to accept that,” said Ben-Onn, noting Bethlehem is just five minutes from Jerusalem and Ramallah is just over 10 minutes from the city.
Ben-Onn says both sides need to realize the conflict will never end until they try to reach common ground.
“We are not going to leave this area, and our neighbors, the Palestinians, are not going to leave this area. The only solution is to go back to the negotiation table and framework and find solutions for the conflicts with the help of the United States and the rest of the world,” said Ben-Onn. “I’m very optimistic.”