The Strategic Timing Of Trumps Move To Recognize Jerusalem

News Image By Dovid Efune/ December 07, 2017
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US President Donald Trump has faced a virtual torrent of criticism since recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital Wednesday.

He should pay the critics no heed. The move is not only morally the right thing to do, it's also a political masterstroke. Let me explain.

Generally, the critics can be divided into two categories.

The first group -- among them the Ramallah-headquartered Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip-ruling terror organization Hamas (along with various Arab and Muslim states, and even the US State Department) -- has made the case against recognition as being vital to prevent the inevitable violence and outrage that will follow as a result.

But Arab blackmail doesn't feel like a compelling argument against implementing American law and doing what's right -- certainly for the United States. In addition, neither of these entities has much of a track record in furthering the cause of peace.

The second group, who are generally supportive of the move, have questioned the timing -- ahead of the expected unveiling of a White House peace initiative in the coming weeks.

The timing, however, appears to be very well considered. It's highly appropriate to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the outset of a peace push for the following reason:

When Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, whom Trump has tasked with the Mideast peace brief, embarked on their "listening tour" soon after the president took office, they were advised by at least one regional actor that, in the words of Albert Einstein, one can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results. 

In many ways, it seems that this word of advice -- frankly, a matter of common sense -- has served as a guiding principle in the nascent peace efforts.

From what we have seen so far, the peacemaking team has sought to implement new approaches on at least four fronts.

Firstly, there's the "regional approach" concept, which was mentioned by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump in their first White House meeting. The practical manifestation of this alignment between Israel and the Sunni Arab states has yet to be clearly presented, but remains a constant subject of peace discussions.

Second is the commitment to push the parties to the table without imposing a predetermined outcome. "We're trying to find a solution that comes from the region, not to impose," Kushner told attendees at the Saban Forum over the weekend.

Third, there's the focus on "bottom up" actions, seeking to build cooperation between the Palestinian and Israel people themselves by appealing to interests. This "economic peace" concept was behind the US-facilitated landmark water deal inked in July by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the administration's willingness to apply pressure on the Palestinian Authority. Whereas some past presidents have handled PA leaders with kid gloves, Trump has taken a far more forthright approach, bringing up prickly issues like PA payments to terrorists without thinking twice.

This is vital because, as has been very well documented, the greatest obstacle to progress in the region has been Palestinian intransigence. The Israelis have shown -- perhaps mistakenly -- an incredible capacity to offer painful concessions for the cause of peace, including land transfers, prisoner releases and dangerous security arrangements, often at great political risk. 

Time and again, these gestures were rebuffed, and the Palestinians were excused as being the weaker, aggrieved, more delicate party.

The Palestinians first introduced the Trump administration to their duplicitous strategies when PA President Mahmoud Abbas told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in June that they were ending the terror payments, only to recommit themselves to the sponsorship shortly afterwards.

But now we have a White House that favors results over process, and understands that presenting the Palestinians with real, permanent and painful costs for their rejectionism may provide the best opportunity for progress. Both carrots and sticks are necessary, and the White House appears to be preparing one hell of a stick.

There's the ever present threat to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; the threat to shut down the PA office in DC; the specter of White House support for the Taylor Force Act, which will see significant cuts to US financial aid to the Palestinians; Trump's unwillingness to specify the two-state solution as the only solution to the conflict; and even the threat to withhold funds from international bodies that give the PA and the PLO full membership, which was circulated in the administration's early days. 

In addition, the Palestinians will not be quick to forget that it was a matter of months before they were even able to establish contact with Trump's team. They should not be taking that access for granted.

The Israelis have long been concerned -- with due reason -- that the Palestinians have never intended to pursue a genuine peace and that the peace process is seen as a tactic to secure more land from which to launch continued attacks on the Jewish state. 

Leaders of the PA have paid lip service to the peace initiatives over the years, but the statements in the PA's founding and guiding documents, its glorification of terrorists, the curriculum taught in its schools and its constant incitement on social media, among other things, have all long-told another story.

Here we have an administration that for the first time seems prepared to call the Palestinians' bluff. The recognition of Jerusalem at the onset of a peace initiative -- and the lining up of further potential repercussions -- shows the Palestinians and the international community just how serious the president is.

Originally published in the Algemeiner - reposted with permission.

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