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President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his tweet that “we’ve taken Jerusalem off the table” clearly had more to do with keeping a promise to far-right billionaire donors like Sheldon Adelson and to members of his fundamentalist evangelical Christian advisory council than it did with the Administration’s claim to be seeking a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump’s moves on Jerusalem, taken together with his allies’ apparent acceptance of Israel’s right-wing version of a “one-state solution,” could doom chances for peace with the Palestinians and imperil Israel’s survival.
In the region, predictably, Israel’s Likud-led rightwing government welcomed Trump’s announcement, while Israeli supporters seeking peace with the Palestinians, including many senior retired Israeli military and security officials expressed concerns. Trump’s move greatly angered Palestinian Muslims and Christians, as well as Saudi and other Arab leaders, on whom the Administration seems to be depending for support of its supposed peace effort.
To the president, what appears to matter far more than peace is the support and praise of billionaire backers like Adelson.
At home, Trump’s politically motivated alliance with Adelson and Christian fundamentalists on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem disregarded the views of most mainstream American Protestants, Roman Catholics and the clear majority of American Jews. According to an American Jewish Committee poll earlier this year, only 16% of American Jews favored making this move immediately. Both the pro-Israel, pro-peace group J Street and the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious denomination, raised concerns about the wisdom and timing of Trump’s move.
To the president, what appears to matter far more than peace is the support and praise of billionaire backers like Adelson. It’s an open secret Adelson was feeling frustrated that, after almost a year in office, Trump had not yet fulfilled his promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s also widely known that, while Adelson sometimes is described as a “strong supporter of Israel,” his political leanings and loyalties in Israel are almost exclusively with the Likud and other right-wing Israeli factions that fiercely oppose a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Adelson has consistently been a loud supporter and source of funds for expanding West Bank settlements and for holding on permanently to the occupied territory.
Even historically hawkish Israeli prime ministers have recognized that expanding settlements deeper into the West Bank and maintaining Israeli military control over all or large portions of the Occupied Territories would very likely make peace impossible. Both Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert broke away from Likud over their views of how keeping control of Gaza and the West Bank threatened the survival of Israel. Sharon withdrew Israeli forces from inside Gaza in 2005. In 2007, then Prime Minister Olmert publicly declared, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” Based on his view of the threat to Israel’s survival, in 2008, after multiple rounds of secret talks, Prime Minister Olmert offered a draft two-state peace agreement and Palestinian President Abbas came very close to accepting it. Abbas declined to sign the draft because at the time Olmert was drowning in scandal, facing legal prosecution and was about to resign from office. Reflecting progress, he and Olmert had made, President Abbas urged President Trump to restart negotiations based on that draft agreement.
If President Trump is serious about wanting to accomplish a great peace deal for Israelis and for Palestinians, and for important US national security interests, it makes no sense at all for his Administration to align with the voices of the evangelical right. These leaders, who don’t speak for all evangelicals, arrogantly ignore the urgent pleas of Palestinian Christians; they support Israel largely based on arguable “end-times” theology, and tend to understand “prophesy” in ways that promise the same eventual fate for Jews who don’t convert to Christianity as Christian anti-Semites have predicted over the centuries.
Even historically hawkish Israeli prime ministers have recognized that expanding settlements deeper into the West Bank and maintaining Israeli military control over all or large portions of the Occupied Territories would very likely make peace impossible.
What would make sense is that President Trump present a framework for a two-state peace agreement to Israel and the Palestinians along the lines of that proposed by Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer (See Kurtzer, Parameters: Model Framework for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations [PDF]) and, in coordination with the Quartet (U.S., E.U., Russia and the U.N. Secretary General), present the framework to the U.N. Security Council for endorsement. That’s a plan of action for peace that I believe would evoke active, strong support from leaders and constituents of major American Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations. It would likely win public support among the majority American Jews and Christian Evangelicals, especially among millennials whose views have increasingly come to reflect strong concern for Palestinians as well as for Israelis.
Ron Young is Consultant with heads of twenty-five Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations that compose the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI). This commentary represents Ron’s personal views, not the views of NILI. Ron’s memoir, Crossing Boundaries in the Americas, Vietnam and the Middle East was published in 2014. Ron lives in Everett, WA and can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.