On Monday, the Trump administration announced it was closing the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization and reducing aid to the Palestinians by $25 million. So why is Trump doing this now? Is it a smart move in principle or in strategy? And who even speaks for the Palestinians right now? We discuss it all with Act for America Founder Brigitte Gabriel, who is also author of the new book “Rise” For Judeo-Christian Values and Freedom.” Brigitte also relects on Tuesday’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America welcome the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem after three previous administrations acknowledged Jerusalem as the Israeli capital but refused to move the embassy. They also wince as Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin vetoes legislation that would allow residents to carry guns without a permit, leading Jim to wonder whether the anti-gun backlash after Parkland is making GOP officials more timid. And they roll their eyes as the media condemn Israel for defending its borders against thousands of Palestinians specifically sent to the border to instigate a response from Israel.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a very good move that aids the pursuit of peace, does not concern our closest Arab allies and tells the world Mr. Trump will do what he says.
On Wednesday, Trump announced the United States was formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, noting it was simply a confirmation of reality.
“We’ve been living in a delusion by not acknowledging the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” said Bolton. “Israel is probably the only country in the world where the American embassy is not in the capital city of the country to which our diplomats are accredited. What Trump did was nothing more or nothing less than making Israel the same as every other country where we’ve got an ambassador.”
Bolton says in the seven decades of the modern Israeli state, it’s clear where the center of government is, but adds that Trump left room open for the Palestinians to still get some of what they want.
“West Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital ever since the creation of the new state. Trump was very careful in his statement that putting the embassy in West Jerusalem, where it’s obviously going to be, doesn’t prejudice discussions about the borders of Jerusalem or the borders of Israel itself,” said Bolton.
Bolton says the fate of Jerusalem has been debated since the aftermath of World War II. Originally, the United Nations wanted the city to be under its control and not part of a Jewish state or an Arab state. The Arab nations rejected the deal, but ever since the status of Jerusalem was thought to be a major negotiating point towards a two-state solution.
Nonetheless, Trump is getting substantial blowback from Democrats, U.S. allies and the American foreign policy establishment, even though presidents and lawmakers from both parties have overwhelmingly endorsed recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for decades.
So what’s changed now?
“Political talk is cheap and there’s a lot of cheap talk in Washington. What Trump has done here is throw all of that into perspective. He not only said he was going to do this on the campaign trail. He has actually set it in motion,” said Bolton.
Bolton expects Trump to reap some domestic political benefit for keeping the promise, but suspects the greater impact will be other world leaders observing what Trump has done.
“This guy actually does what he says he’s going to do. So when he says on North Korea, ‘My only acceptable result is denuclearization,” he may really mean it. So I think it builds his credibility domestically and internationally and distinguishes him from his predecessors in the White House and a lot of other American politicians,” said Bolton.
But Bolton says it wasn’t just cheap talk that delayed this recognition for so long. He says the U.S. was effectively bullied into never following through on the issue.
“What this has really boiled down to for a long time is the threat of using brute force to intimidate the United States not to acknowledge the reality of where Israel’s capital is. Unfortunately, I think the lesson has been that the threat works. The intimidation works. We didn’t move the embassy to Jerusalem,” said Bolton.
In the wake of Trump’s announcement, Palestinian leaders have called for “days of rage” and the lead Palestinian negotiator says the goal of a two-state solution is now dead and only a one state solution is now viable.
Bolton is hopeful the protests will not be overly violent and says lashing out will not accomplish anything for the Palestinian cause.
“People, whether they’re Palestinians or citizens of other Middle East countries, or people around the world, ask yourselves what violence would do at this point that has any possibility of changing the situation,” said Bolton.
While the Palestinians and other Trump critics fear Wednesday’s actions could damage the peace process, Bolton says there’s not much of a peace process happening right now at all.
“The peace process was already in very difficult shape. Honestly, if moving a building from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem end the peace process, then I have to say it was a pretty delicate snowflake to begin with,” said Bolton.
Conversely, Bolton believes the U.S. action could actually facilitate peace talks.
“Those who really want a durable, secure peace have to base it on realistic foundations. You can’t base it on illusions. And Trump’s decisions cleared away a lot of debris from the past. When people calm down, and they will in a few days, they’ll see that it’s really a step toward a possible Middle East peace, not something that’s going to interfere with it,” said Bolton.
The timing of Trump’s action is also of concern to some, given the cooperative roles that Egypt, Jordan and increasingly Saudi Arabia play in our regional policy and the effort to prevent Iran from deploying nuclear weapons. All of those nations urged Trump not to recognize Jerusalem, but Bolton is not worried that our relationships will fray as a result.
“They’re just as realistic in private as the president was in public. They don’t have any interest in destructive demonstrations in their country. The leaders understand Israel is a permanent fact of life in the Middle East, that it does have a capital and it’s in Jerusalem just as the president said,” said Bolton.
However, he says those same leaders will publicly condemn the move to achieve solidarity with their people while working behind the scenes to move on.
“There are always situations where politicians are playing to their domestic audiences. So this move will be criticized in public. But in private, I think the leaders will be doing everything they can to tamp down the demonstrations and hopefully do what they can to make sure they don’t turn violent,” said Bolton.
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.”
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America applaud the vast majority of President Trump’s executive orders. They also groan at the news President Obama defied Congress to send $221 million to the Palestinian Authority on his final morning as president. And they shake their heads as two-thirds of Senate Democrats even oppose Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA.