Here’s the live feed for the President’s remarks on the status of Jerusalem. What you’re going to want to watch and listen for is how he frames the specific portions on the status of Jerusalem. Does he call it Israel’s undivided capital? Only the capital of Israel? Or just the capital of Israel? In other words is there some nuance in his statement that keeps the final status of Jerusalem viable diplomatically.
Updated at 1:25 PM EST
The President made two very clear statements about both freedom of religion and access to religious sites in Jerusalem. Even more specifically he stated that Muslims must have access to the al Aqsa Mosque and stating that access for Muslims to the Harem al Sharif must be preserved.
My take away from the speech is that he’s going to continue to sign the waivers to keep the US embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv until an embassy can be built in Jerusalem in accordance with the 1995 law that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He made a very clear statement that beginning the planning for moving the embassy should not infringe on final status issues between the Israelis and Palestinians. This includes the final status of Jerusalem vis a vis the Israelis and Palestinians.
What needs to be understood is that no matter how nice the speech sounded, nor the nuance and clarity I highlighted above, is that the President’s statements and actions on the status of Jerusalem is completely disconnected from the reality on the ground. Despite seeming to reinforce the US policy preference for a two state solution, by changing US policy and embracing the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act he has undercut the US’s preference for a two state solution by preemptively dealing with the issue of Jerusalem.
This decision and the President’s remarks ignore just how fragile the status quo is in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It also ignores the vast minutiae across dozens of categories and sub-categories that have to be negotiated and agreed to before the big ticket items like the final status of Jerusalem can even be considered. Today’s decision places the cart before dozens of horses.
Finally, forget about who started what when. Forget about who did what to whom in the 19th or early 20th Centuries. Right now, today, the Israelis hold all the leverage and power in the relationship with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have three options: 1) acquiesce and remain forever in socio-political and ethno-national limbo, 2) make a good faith effort via a peace negotiation to get the best deal they can get and then live with it as the best that could be gotten, or 3) revolt. The first option is not viable or acceptable. The second only works if the Israeli leadership is willing to make a good faith effort to negotiate a settlement, which the current leadership isn’t. The third is violent self help.
The only things the Palestinians have to trade for a negotiated peace agreement and their own state is an intangible: peace. This isn’t trading land for land or resources for land or even money for land. It is about the Israelis who control the land being willing to give some of it up, as well as the administrative control over it, to the Palestinians in exchange for an intangible concept.
We’re once again back to something akin to Bernard Fall’s remarks about civic action:
Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of anti-malaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.
Simple but adequate appeals indeed…