All of my life, I have had a love for Israel. I filmed three of my action movies there – “Delta Force” being my favorite. And my wife, Gena, and I have also formed many great friendships in the Holy Land, including with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. (You can see us visiting with Bibi earlier this year on the prime minister’s YouTube page.)
Historically, Israel has been the strongest ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, and the U.S. has been Israel’s strongest ally outside the Middle East. The U.S. recognized Israel as a sovereign state in 1948, and it has needed to acknowledge Israel’s capital and move its embassy there, as the president ordered last Wednesday.
By doing so, the president fulfilled what Congress set out to do over two decades ago when a bilateral majority vote passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which formally recognized the sacred city as the country’s capital and called for the U.S. Embassy to be moved there from Tel Aviv by 1999!
The Washington Post explained that majority decision: “Support for the bill was overwhelming. It passed the Senate by a 93 to 5 vote, with four Republicans and one Democrat voting no. It passed the House 374 to 37, with 153 Democrats joining most of the new Republican majority that had swept into power in 1994.”
In January 2017, GOP senators again introduced legislation that would fulfill America’s commitment to Israel by relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, which was again reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago on June 5, 2017.
Last Wednesday, President Trump fulfilled what three previous administrations promised to do but never did.
I also think we – those outside the White House – don’t take into consideration all the reasons President Trump made the decision, including reasons we may not know or underestimate: for example, a strategic maneuver and confrontation against Iran and its underhanded nuclear support for North Korea – something Bibi was recently addressing.
Johnnie Moore, co-chairman of Trump’s unofficial faith advisory board and recently a part of an evangelical delegation that visited the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, echoed the belief that the president’s decision is being massaged behind the scenes.
He recently explained to Christianity Today: “It is very unlikely that the administration would make such a decision without meaningful and substantive consultation with our Arab and Israeli allies. There will be lots of rhetoric over the next few days, but there’s more to the story, for sure. The reasoning will likely become more apparent in the coming weeks or months.”
Lastly, can opponents of the president really assume the embassy move will hurt the peace process? Can they assume the president doesn’t actually have peace in mind as a goal of what is perceived by some as a hostile political move?
In his speech on the embassy move, the president made several commitments to both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by promising compromise like the following:
- My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
- I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work toward a lasting agreement.
- In making these announcements, I also want to make one point very clear: This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.
- The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement. Without question, Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in those talks. The United States would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.
- In the meantime, I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.
- Above all, our greatest hope is for peace, the universal yearning in every human soul. With today’s action, I reaffirm my administration’s longstanding commitment to a future of peace and security for the region.
- So today, let us rededicate ourselves to a path of mutual understanding and respect. Let us rethink old assumptions and open our hearts and minds to possible and possibilities. And finally, I ask the leaders of the region – political and religious, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Christian and Muslim – to join us in the noble quest for lasting peace.
Dennis Ross is the former American envoy to the Middle East and counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. In 2013-2014, he served in the Office of the Secretary of State, where he was a senior adviser during the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He just released a high-tech interactive map called Settlements and Solutions.
Together, Ross and Makovsky wrote a piece for foreignpolicy.com, “Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Is Not a Disaster,” which commended the president’s approach: “There is a logic to this duality. Israel’s prime minister and parliament are located in the part of Jerusalem that is not contested, and there is an honesty in ending the fiction that the city is not the Israeli capital, which has gone on for close to 70 years.”
That is why James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation, admonished readers not to lose this point in Trump’s decision: “The long-delayed, symbolic move addressed a historic injustice: Israel is the only country in the world not allowed to choose its own capital.” (That has never stopped Bibi from doing things like encouraging other countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem too, as he did in his response to Trump’s decision.)
On the other hand, Ross and Makovsky also warned the president’s administration that they must reiterate (and reiterate again) the dual concern for peace: “At the same time, given the centrality and potentially explosive nature of Jerusalem, it is vital not to appear to be pre-empting the ability of the parties to determine boundaries of the city and whether it will or will not be a capital for two states. … Given Arab and Palestinian concerns and the potential for Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and al-Qaida to distort what the United States is doing to foment rage and violence, it is essential that the Trump administration’s message be clear and consistent about not prejudging the outcome of the status of Jerusalem. Maintaining message discipline has not been the hallmark of the Trump White House, but it is crucial now. No stray tweets allowed. The stakes are too high, particularly if the president’s decision is not going to play into the hands of the enemies of peace.”
The way I see it, the main problem with Israeli-Palestinian peace process as it presently stands is that it’s missing both peace and a process. It’s a stalemate in every sense of the term. With very little variations, there’s as much hostility and contention today as there has ever been in Jerusalem.
It is absolutely remarkable to me that a piece of land so small (Israel)– only roughly 263 miles long and 71 miles wide – has been at the center stage of Middle East politics and war for centuries, and its capital Jerusalem at the very heart of the debate and battles. Ethnic and religious tensions even ran high in Jesus’ day. (Here is a five-minute video history summarizing 4,000 years of upheaval in that sacred city. I also encourage everyone to watch the movie, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” to understand the historical perspective about the capital.)
The truth is, what Jerusalem’s four-millennia history of chaos and conflict reminds us is a lesson we might be slow to accept: The greatest of human ambassadors and negotiators may never be able to bring complete peace to the holy city and land. Peace talks alone can’t unify us. They can’t even get the various factions to agree to disagree agreeably about anything.
Maybe the peace process requires a far greater type of intervention. More than ever, maybe what we need is to cry out to the Prince of Peace and follow the ancient command to pray for the peace (and the pieces) of Jerusalem. As it says in the Hebrew Scriptures: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you'” (Psalm 122:6).
(You, too, can be an ambassador of peace right now if you pause to pray this prayer for the peace of Jerusalem by Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the 99-year-old Reverend Billy Graham.)