President Trump at the Kotel

By Larry Gordon

Despite the myriad distractions, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are living in truly extraordinary times. Case in point is the matter of that city on a hill, Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel and of all Jews everywhere.

On Sunday night in Manhattan at the annual Bet El dinner, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, reiterated what he said before a congressional committee the week prior. When asked whether he would be in favor of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem in the near future, Bolton said that he would not do it in the near future–“I would do it today,” he told the committee.

Mr. Bolton, who is known for his conservative positions on many issues, was joined by an impressive lineup of other Israeli and U.S. officials offering a ringing endorsement of the embassy move. Those present who supported Bolton’s statement and the stated position of President Trump on Jerusalem were Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis and two New York members of the House of Representatives, Lee Zeldin of Long Island and Dan Donovan of Staten Island.

So here is what President Trump has to do in order to make this happen: absolutely nothing. Sure, the president spoke to a number of world leaders, but most important is what explained he will not do. Next time around, he won’t sign the every-six-months waiver that every president has signed since 1995.

From a U.S. perspective, that Jerusalem is the recognized capital of the state of Israel is not new or news. As Mr. Bolton said on Sunday night, of the 193 member states of the United Nations that have relations with the U.S., our embassy is located in the capital city of each country in each case except in one–Israel.

And if you know your Chumash, then you also know that this is exactly the way in which it was foretold that the Jewish people will ultimately lay claim to all of the G-d-given land of Israel. The portion of Vayeitzei begins with the story of Jacob camping overnight at the site that our commentators say was the Har HaBayis, the Temple Mount, the future home of G-d’s holy abode on earth. The Torah tells us there that Yaakov Avinu slept in that place that night, and when he awoke he was a little perturbed once he learned that this was a place that featured G-d’s presence and yet he had still managed to sleep comfortably.

Rashi was apparently troubled as to why the Torah had to specify that Yakov slept on the land. Why not just say that this was the land that Hashem promised to his descendants, the nation of Israel? Rashi says that it is an indication that the future conquest of the land of Israel by the Jewish people “will be effortless,” and will require no proactive means; rather, it will be awarded to the people of Israel as if it were being presented to a person who is fast asleep.

And that is exactly what the Jerusalem Act–passed by both houses of Congress in 1995–is about. By the president remaining passive and not signing the waiver, it becomes U.S. law. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the U.S. is henceforth obligated to begin the process of relocating our embassy to the capital city of Jerusalem.

While President Trump fulfills his campaign promise on the matter, in the interest of doing his utmost to be sensitive to the fragility and tensions in the region, the president has announced that the U.S. is hereby recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city but is also signing the waiver that delays the relocation of the embassy for another six months.

But this time around it is not just another perfunctory delay. While the president has signed the waiver, he has also put the countries in the area on notice that the process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem is under way and that the plan is to complete it over the next six months; at that point he will not sign the waiver. In other words, Jerusalem can become the official part of the Jewish state not just while we are asleep, but while Donald Trump is asleep as well.

So what happens next? Turkey is threatening to cut off relations with Israel. The Palestinians, though they have refused to sit at a table with Israelis and seriously negotiate for the last five years, is now in a sophomoric and silly way saying that recognizing Jerusalem will end the peace process. What? There’s a peace process?

A few years ago, I was at a briefing with an Israeli leader who said that he had met with members of the Saudi royal family and that they were critical of the fact that at the time Israel was not cracking down hard enough on terrorism in the West Bank. The Saudi leader told the Israeli leader two things. One is that Israel has to be tougher on the Palestinians, and the second thing is that they–the Saudis–were going to condemn Israel for that.

We might be witness to a similar charade this week on the matter of Jerusalem. The idea that the U.S. was ready to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will most likely be severely condemned by key players like Egypt, Jordan, and the Saudis, though so far the Saudis have been curiously restrained in their criticism.

We can all be certain that the Trump team has been coordinating these moves with those countries and that their words and actions are all carefully choreographed. On one level, we have been down this road more than a few times in the past, though it may never have been this amplified or exaggerated.

The Trump critics will reiterate that the announcement is taking place now because the president simply does not know what he is doing. But the announcement is made intelligently. That Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is not new information. The only thing that is news here is that it is usually not spoken about, and this week it is very much on the minds and lips of world leaders.

Once again, the only real change taking place right now is that President Trump has officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel despite signing the waiver that delays the move from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, as has been done every half-year for the last 22 years. The Palestinian leadership can either resort to encouraging violence that sets them back even further, or use the opportunity to enter into a negotiated settlement with Israel. The choice is essentially theirs.

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