COMMENT: Yerushalayim Is Happy, Yerushalayim Is Worried


Not every day and not every year does a moving, dramatic, historic event take place in the public view.

Yesterday it happened.

The president of the United States proved that he keeps his word and officially declared Yerushalayim as the capital of the state of Israel. It is true that this is recognition of a practical situation that has already existed for 70 years, but until today, despite practical decisions by a large majority of Congress 20 years ago, no American president had dared to do what president Donald Trump did, with great courage and without recoiling.

Yerushalayim is the capital of Israel with or without international recognition. However, the president’s declaration yesterday has immense political and international importance, and there is hope that other countries will follow in Washington’s footsteps and recognize Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital as well.

This is a festive occasion from our point of view, as residents of Yerushalayim, and fr om the point of view of most Israeli citizens, but it is perceived as incendiary by our neighbors who are already threatening to escalate the reaction on the streets and to return to the era of terror. The happiness is mixed with anxiety. A state of alert has been declared in all army units and many army troops and police have been moved urgently to Yerushalayim, now officially recognized as the capital in the eyes of the Americans.

President Trump spoke in a calm tone and picked his words carefully. He included gifts to the Palestinians too. He promised them that the decision does not represent a political position. The final decisions will be taken in the peace agreement between the sides. He also strongly criticized his predecessors in the White House, who thought that if they did not recognize Yerushalayim, this would advance peace. In practice the opposite happened. Now, the president suggested, there is a better chance that the sides will progress to the agreed peace between them. If they want, he has no objection to two states, side by side. But he again emphasized that this depends on both sides, and the decisions of their leaders. He is prepared to assist, to help reach the objective. As an objective mediator and not as someone who dictates steps.

Yesterday President Trump entered himself in the annals of the history of Yerushalayim in a place where none of his predecessors had been prepared to reach. Now it must be hoped that the anomaly by which the embassy of a sovereign country is located not in the capital of the state will end.

President Trump, who has already showed courage and determination in other issues, was not deterred by the heavy pressure and the threats addressed to him in the last few days and he kept his promise to millions of his voters that he would declare Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel. He proved that those who are afraid invited acts of terror and those who are not afraid can lead to the next stage of a good peace between the sides.

The others failed, and the time has now come to try a different path. Peace is not immediate, but Mr. Trump’s decision creates an opening for peace. As he says, the time has come to follow a different path — a path that will give everyone a better chance.

The declaration is welcome news for every Jew everywhere. The recognition by the biggest and most important empire in the world of Yerushalayim as the capital of a Jewish state is a message to the entire world that, in the argument over the question of who has the greatest right to Yerushalayim, a clear victory has been gained for the Jewish people.

Too many Israelis, both the people and the leadership, in the media and in the army, feared the impending news and tried to cool things down, and to present the step as something that might bring with it “a severe Arab and international reaction,” and that the benefit of the declaration would not cover the damage and developments liable to result from it in the field of political and military conflicts on the ground. This is exactly how the Israeli leadership behaved in 1948 when they consciously relinquished the Old City. So also in 1967, when they went to war on Yerushalayim, and were only step away from a decision not to conquer the Old City.

And the Americans also absorbed the cool Israeli atmosphere, then and today. They cooled their president and in the end, yesterday, he gave a good and fitting declaration of intent, but with additions that were intended for the ears of the Arabs, and which do not cause Jewish hearts to rejoice.

It is to be hoped that the Arabs will not draw the conclusion from the wording of the declaration that their hope is not yet lost. And if they continue to apply pressure, to object, and particularly to threaten, and even if there is a temporary conflagration — there is a good chance that the White House will still retract the declaration, or in any case will not extend it, and will not clarify it in a way that will indeed prove to everyone that the entire length and breadth of Yerushalayim is the capital of a Jewish state, and particularly its east and west.

Are there no fears of escalation in the wake of the declaration? Certainly there are. But even without the declaration, and many years before it, Israel’s enemies tried to cause damage and spread terror. From this point of view nothing is new.

On the other hand, it was encouraging to listen to the declaration of the president of the United States. The man did a courageous act, and he deserves esteem for this. The world now needs to realize that policy cannot be dictated by threats and acts of terror.

On December 13, 1949, the State of Israel already declared West Yerushalayim, an area that was under its control, as its capital. Until 1969, the United States held the view that Yerushalayim, at least partly and around the holy places, should be international. Following the Six-Day War, Israel implemented Israeli law in the east of the city by means of a government ordinance.

On July 30, 1980 the Knesset passed the Yerushalayim, Capital of Israel Law. The law states that the united Yerushalayim is the capital of Israel and the location of the president, the Knesset, the government and the High Court.

In response, the United Nations Security Council passed a decision defining the law as a violation of international law. The proposal was passed with the support of 14 member states, with no opposition, but with the abstention of the United States.

In 1995, the president reminded us, when the American Congress approved a law according to which “Yerushalayim should remain an undivided city that preserves the rights of all religions and ethnic groups. … The U.S. embassy should be relocated to Yerushalayim no later than May 1999.” However, in reality, America never implemented the decision.

Until Donald Trump proved that he is a mentch who knows how to keep promises.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people looked toward Yerushalayim, prayed toward it, and dreamed of it. Recognition of Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel and moving the embassy there is a milestone in the right of the Jewish people in its land. The president’s welcome step is engraved for the generations the stones of Yerushalayim and the stones of the Kosel, where he prayed on his last visit to Israel. This is a gift of the American people to the Jewish people, to the State of Israel that is marking the 70th year since its foundation and to Yerushalayim that is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its liberation and unification.