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Bronner writes: "'Next year in Jerusalem!' was once the cry of an oppressed people seeking liberation from slavery and repenting its sins. Those same words now express the sentiments of an arrogant regime with expansionist ambitions."

People praying on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
People praying on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo: Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Next Year in Jerusalem

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

20 December 17


n the Jewish Diaspora, Passover and Yom Kippur prayers end with the plea: “Next Year in Jerusalem.” At least since roughly the 15th century, these words expressed what was understood as the utopian hope of returning not simply to a homeland but a place of redemption. The sacred character of that longing from times past has been badly tarnished by exigency and hypocrisy; it is par for the course that President Donald Trump should soil whatever he touches. His decision of December 6, 2017, to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has already aggravated the conflict and further undermined the global standing of the United States.

Frustration has exploded into anger. The eerie silence surrounding stymied negotiations has made way for heated protests, talk of a new intifada, and Israeli military attacks that have left 4 dead and 300 wounded. Trump’s declaration offered no hint of a quid pro quo that might benefit the Palestinians. Media coverage in the United States (such as it was), however, lasted only for a day or two before MSNBC and CNN turned back to domestic issues. It wasn’t just a matter of ratings. Trump’s usual critics were not exactly outraged by the initiative. Former diplomats and Middle East “experts” did challenge its “timing,” its impact on negotiations, and the lack of Israeli concessions. But they offered few reasons why Trump should not have made his decision public. Negotiations are at a standstill, American policy was never even-handed, and Israel has no pressing need to concede anything. Trump’s critics quickly showed their common sense. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the lead. He had initially opposed Trump’s declaration but suddenly recalled that “logistical” problems would prevent any transfer before 2020 and that, besides, the president was simply recognizing the facts on the ground: most American offices are already located in Jerusalem.

All this is, of course, completely disingenuous: symbolic politics is still politics. And Trump made his symbolic point. Jerusalem’s “Western Wall,” which stands outside the pre-1967 borders and adjoins various Islamic holy sites, now apparently belongs to Israel. More than a few liberal Zionists nodded in agreement, and in fact Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) boasted of having advised Trump on his Jerusalem initiative. Unlike Christian evangelicals, Zionist extremists, or most in the orthodox Jewish community, they may not go out on a limb, but they don’t have much of a problem with the idea of a unified Jerusalem under Israeli control.

Most Americans are sick of the seemingly endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general and the Palestinians in particular. Trump’s cynical declaration on Jerusalem speaks to that reality. Shifting the American embassy to Jerusalem offers the president a momentary reprieve from the lurid Congressional investigations plaguing his administration, accusations of sexual misconduct, and the controversy surrounding his wildly unpopular tax bill. His decision also provides him with an “achievement” and proactive compensation, given the probable failure of the “ultimate” Israeli-Palestinian peace plan being formulated by Jared Kushner.

Details have come only from leaks and, apparently, the approach of the team led by the president’s son-in-law comes down to “take it or leave it.” Palestinians will supposedly receive a state without contiguous borders, control over air space and water, recognition of the right of return, or plans for the withdrawal of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. Hamas will remain excluded as Fatah is turned into the sole representative of Gaza over which it lacks control. Bottom line: Kushner’s peace package will offer little more than the framework for a failed state, though, according to The New York Times (12/8/2017), Saudi Arabia might sweeten the pot with some cash. This is all just conjecture, but no Palestinian could possibly accept such terms. This kind of one-sided “peace” can only be implemented by force or fiat – a previously implausible idea yet, given the character of Trump’s foreign policy, not unimaginable now.

American policy will assuredly spark a new wave of European anti-Semitism as well as greater international isolation for Israel. The United Nations has already condemned the Jerusalem initiative. Israel will undoubtedly face more boycotts, vilification, protests and violence. Iraq’s powerful militia leader Moktada al Sadr has already called for a new “Arab Spring” targeting Israel that would unite Shia and Sunni. Unleashing an anti-Semitism wave and turning Israel into even more of an international pariah is not in its national interest. With regard to the interests of Netanyahu, however, it is another matter entirely. He will undoubtedly use the new state of siege to justify his obsession with security, Islamophobia, and claims of unfair and anti-Semitic treatment by the rest of the world.

Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem also becomes a testament to Netanyahu’s leadership. No less than the American president, who is dealing with ever more calls for his impeachment, the Israeli prime minister is embroiled in a deepening corruption and bribery scandal of his own involving the German navy. Both leaders need support badly, and Trump’s Jerusalem initiative is a gift to orthodox religious and Zionist imperialist groups whose political support Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition requires. Trump’s declaration also enhances the “Jewish” and authoritarian rather than the non-denominational and democratic identity of the Israeli state. Extremists in Israel and Palestine have done everything possible to sabotage any prospect for peace or a two-state solution. Both are now off the table, at least for the foreseeable future. Trump’s initiative has officially placed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hands of those forces seeking to perpetuate rather than resolve it.

Talk of peace is a smokescreen. Trump’s decision is actually a provocation that dares the Palestinians to embrace violence. It also complicates any future peace talks. Most European leaders have condemned the United States, and it has been called an “unreliable” broker. The 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation responded by recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, jettisoning the United States as a negotiating partner, and preparing to recognize a Palestinian state with very different borders. On December 12, 2017, in fact, the Palestinian Authority canceled a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence just before “pressing" domestic matters derailed his planned visit to the Middle East. Untrustworthy authoritarian states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt will become proxies for American interests in the Middle East. In keeping with its more general withdrawal from various international associations, the United States has now abandoned its role as a regional mediator. Indeed, the American president can now concentrate on ever more militantly confronting Iran and North Korea.

“Next year in Jerusalem!” was once the cry of an oppressed people seeking liberation from slavery and repenting its sins. Those same words now express the sentiments of an arrogant regime with expansionist ambitions. That change makes a mockery of the ethical gravitas associated with figures like Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Abraham Heschel, and a host of other intellectual and activist luminaries. New pragmatic proposals for peace are surely necessary. Especially when all seems lost, however, it is equally important to affirm the cosmopolitan ideals and humanistic values that will inform them. Today, there is something profoundly irresponsible in ignoring either the prescience or the challenge of Walter Benjamin’s call to “rub history against the grain.”

Stephen Eric Bronner is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of Global Relations at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers University. His most recent books are The Bitter Taste of Hope: Ideas, Ideologies and Interests in the Age of Obama (SUNY Press) and The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists (Yale University Press).

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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