On Wednesday, December 6, President Donald J. Trump officially announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from its present Tel Aviv address.
In a carefully crafted declaration, Trump said,
In 1995, Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize that that city — and so importantly — is Israel’s capital. This act passed Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority and was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago. Yet, for over 20 years, every previous American president has exercised the law’s waiver, refusing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. …After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Since Trump’s election, Israelis have had many questions about America’s self-proclaimed Dealmaker, who claims he can make the Deal-of-a Lifetime: Peace between the Jewish State and Middle East Arabs.
With this in mind, Trump’s team, including his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner, visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on August 27. No progress was reported.
Then in September, Israel Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and President Trump met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Trump hailed a possible plan for peace, “It’d be a fantastic achievement,” he reportedly said. “We are giving it an absolute go.”
Netanyahu responded a bit more cautiously, “I think there’s a good chance that it could happen.” He went on to say that he looked forward to discussing the “terrible nuclear deal with Iran.”
In fact, that terrible deal with Iran has played a part in Trump’s landmark announcement about Jerusalem. Push-back against Iran’s aggression has led to a significant shift in Middle East politics.
The young Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, indisputably a rising star among Sunni Muslims, has emerged as a youthful and energetic reformer. Along with other Sunnis, such as Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, he has signaled a softer stance toward Israel.
This is doubtless due to the endless and horrific bloodshed in Syria and Yemen, where deadly military conflicts have been both bankrolled by Iran and carried out by Iranian proxies.
Israeli intelligence and, perhaps, even military assistance might become useful to Sunni states as they confront Iranian militias and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) generals in Syria and Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.
At the same time, the “Two State Solution” between Israel and Palestine has been eclipsed by more urgent realities, most notably the seemingly endless Syrian Civil War that has extinguished nearly half a million lives.
Meanwhile, many Israelis simply don’t know what to make of Trump. Some openly loathe him. Others contend that, warts and all, he’s better for Israel than Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton.
More than a few quietly support him.
So where are the fault-lines between these groups? At least some differences are related to religious faith.
Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev has pointed out that, in his words, “an unfortunate proportion” of Orthodox Jews support right-wing causes.
According to the Pew Forum, roughly half of America’s Orthodox Jews describe themselves as political conservatives, and 57 percent identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.
That same Pew report points out, “…the only other U.S. religious groups that are as conservative and Republican as Orthodox Jews are…evangelical Protestants ….”
Both groups share a Biblical view of truth, justice, and morality. And with notable exceptions, most embrace Zionism.
Of course, biblically speaking, Jerusalem has been the historic capital of the Jewish State since around 1,000 B.C., when King David first conquered it. To this day, it is described as the “Eternal Capital” of the Jewish people.
Just months after the presidential inauguration, Evangelical Christians and religious Jews watched as President Donald Trump — eyes closed, hand pressed against the 2,000-year-old Western Wall — murmured a prayer.
Those who supported Trump out of religious conviction — Jews and Christians alike — recognized that he was the first American President ever to pray at the Western Wall while in office.
In that moment, despite Trump’s provocative tweets, careless remarks, and political missteps, believers seemed to catch a glimpse of something that mattered very much to them.
Now, once again, despite likely surges of violence, or perhaps even the threat of a third intifada, those same believers have received the news about Jerusalem with joy and gratitude.
For them, President Trump’s Jerusalem decision was — quite literally — an answer to their prayers.