Monday, May 14, should have been a day of pure joy for Israeli and American Jews. Not only did it mark, according to the non-Jewish calendar, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, but it also fulfilled a 2-decade-old American promise to treat Israel like any other nation and place our embassy in that nation’s self-declared capital.
Say what you want about President Donald Trump, but he made good on his campaign pledge to move the embassy — a vow broken by his three immediate predecessors. He has no regard for diplomatic traditions — the kind that led the State Department to oppose recognition of Israel in the first place in 1948.
Almost nothing is simple in the Middle East, but this is: Israel is a sovereign nation that bases its government in its capital city, Jerusalem. Foreign nations that have diplomatic business with Israel ought to put their embassies where the government is.
We’ve seen people bewildered that Trump gave something to Israel without getting anything back, such as a freeze on settlements, and others outraged that he endangered the U.S. role as a neutral third party in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Nonsense. The president didn’t give Israel anything more than the respect owed any sovereign nation, and he obeyed U.S. law, rejecting the fiction adopted by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem created a national security risk. If anything, the embassy move ends the practice of giving the Palestinians something — a refusal to treat Israel like a full-fledged member of the international community — for nothing.
That’s what Israelis of all political stripes were celebrating May 14: diplomatic normalcy.
As for the peace process, there is none. The status quo failed to bring the Palestinians to the table for serious negotiations; perhaps the embassy move will shake Mahmoud Abbas (or his successor, if he ever leaves office) enough to spark peace talks.
It’s worth a try, especially because the U.S. Embassy is in a part of Jerusalem that has been under Israel’s control since 1948. Putting the embassy there does not prejudge the city’s final status.
So we join with most of the Jewish people in seeing the embassy move as a reason for celebration.
Unfortunately, we rarely get joy without sadness. Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) is immediately preceded by Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day). Rosh Hashanah leads to Yom Kippur. Passover mixes the excitement of the Exodus with the grief of the Ten Plagues and the drowning of Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea.
So it was that nearly 60 Palestinians were killed in violent attacks on the fence between Gaza and Israel. We mourn the loss of life. But the “nonviolent” Gaza protests included bombs, Molotov cocktails, incendiary kites, firearms and thousands of people trying to break through the border fence into Israel, where they would inflict as much death and destruction as possible. The Israel Defense Forces shouldn’t be criticized for protecting Israel’s territory and people, and no one should misunderstand whose hands are washed in the blood of the Palestinian dead: those of Hamas.
We hope Israel will soon ease restrictions on Gaza residents, including traveling and fishing, and see whether kindness will win over some hearts and minds. As with Jerusalem, the status quo hasn’t worked, so Israel should try something new.