August 16, 2019
“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,This, is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”-President Trump. (December 6, 2017)
President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy (of ‘halting between two opinions’, 1 Kings 18:21, NIV), and seta plan to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested Holy City. Trump visualizes this recognition and moving of the embassy as moving closer to a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, by saying that it is “a long overdue step to advance the peace process”.Trump’s remarks were the most closely scrutinized of his presidency on the Middle East, having mixed reactions and responses from all corners of the world. This research paper concisely presents the history of the development of US foreign policy towards the Middle East over three centuries, the foreign policies of other players driving the US and Israel to resolve thisissueof recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, analyzesthe impact of the declaration on United States Foreign Policy (USFP) towards the Middle East, and projects what lies ahead.
Evolution of US foreign policy towards Middle Easta Sisyphean task
The Puritans came to America believing that God had brought them with apurpose.The truth called‘Restorationism’, was discovered by their reading of the Old Testament, decades before the declaration of Independence (Akers, S. n.d.). WWI brought about the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The British Mandate over Palestine, and the Balfour Declaration initiated the process of the establishment of a Jewish home andJewish immigration. The pan-Arab reaction to this issue, the Holocaust in Europe and WWII, the role of American supporters of the Zionist movement, and American presidents involved in drilling oil in the region starting with Roosevelt, had reverberating effects on Palestine and Jerusalem(Talhami, G. H., 2017).
The three primary issues focusing the United States’ attention on the Middle East are security concerns inter-related with interests in oil reserves, and the Palestine Question(Gelvin, L. J., 2005). Ensuring Israel’s sovereignty is a key issue in considering all three, after the rise of Islamic terrorist groups. The United States policy is against extremist Islamic militants gaining control over WMD (nuclear, radiological, chemical, or biological), a real threat to American national security and stability in the Middle East.The United States and its allies condemned the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan in 1979 and enforced thewithdrawal of their forces. The Global “War on Terrorism,” as a foreign policy,declared during the George W. Bush administration accused Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime of harboring Al-Qaeda forces. The Obama administration successfully located and killed Osama bin Laden,the Al-Qaeda leader, accused of the 9/11 attack.Lately, the United States also formed an international coalition against ISIS, and began air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, having several Arab states (Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), in the coalition (Fantz, A., & Pearson, M., 2015).
The President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem is not to be construed as the United States taking a position on whether, or how, the city might ultimately be shared. This is rather isolating Israel as the closest Ally, as a foreign policy. Perhaps we ought rather to see America as Israel’s Ally thus giving credibility to God’s promise to Abraham (Gen.12:2-3, NIV), a promise held out to every Gentile nation in the Middle East including the Palestinians seeking nationhood.
Zionism’s root and development
Zionism is Israel’s national ideology. Zionists believe Judaism is a nationality as well as a religion, and that Jews deserve their own state in their ancestral homeland, Israel. It’s what brought Jews back to Israel in the first place, and also is at the heart of what concerns Arabs and Palestinians about the Israeli state (Beauchamp, Z., 2018).Turning to the practices of the nations around them and in rejecting their Messiah, God, for a time, seemed to have abandoned His people and taken away their homeland. The history and the future of this nation is what the greater part of the Bible is all about.
Aliyah and the ingathering of the exiles
The first return to the homeland, executed by Moses under the supernatural hand of God, is made famous through the movie, ‘The Ten Commandments’. Their redemption from slavery is a never to be forgotten event through the yearly celebration of the Passover meal which endsby saying,‘Next year in Jerusalem’.The glorious period of King David, the ancestor of Jesus, followed by the breaking up of the Kingdom and their exile in the Babylonian region (Iraq of today), was brought to an end by Cyrus, the Persian Emperor, who is mentioned in the best attested (dead sea scrolls) Old Testament book of Isaiah (Isa.45 NIV). This is not the only “ascent” or “Aliyah”, a second one is also prophesied (Isa.11:11, NIV), in which they return from every nation of the world, which is why the Presidents that have favored this event are compared to Cyrus (Truman and Trump), and the Balfour declaration set in motion Jewish immigration.
Persecution of Jews
Persecution of Jews played a key role in preserving Jewish identity and keeping Jewish communities transient.It would later provide a key role in inspiring Zionists to reject the European identity common to all Western nations.
Importance of declaring Jerusalem as capital-for Jews
The land on which Jerusalem sits, as well as the city itself, has historically had great significance for the Jews because of the important events that took place there.The patriarch of the Jews, Abraham, was asked by God to sacrifice his only son on Mount Moriah prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus, which is in present-day Jerusalem, followed by Moses coming out of Egypt to the promised land, and later by David and Solomon building the templeand God coming to dwell in the temple in the “Holy of Holies”(Why Is Jerusalem Important to the Jews? n.d.).
Importance of declaring Jerusalem as capital-for Christians
Jerusalem is the most significant city to Christians because of theoccurrence ofChrist’scrucifixion, death and resurrection, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built over the site(Why Is Jerusalem Important to Christians? n.d). In this polarized world, it is significant to note that the Pope would rather join sides with the Palestinians in this issue (Horowitz, J., 2017). Pope John Paul II, in his list of apologies included the sins of being silent during the Holocaust, and the murder of Latin Christians and Moslems at the time of the Inquisition. It needs divine wisdom to hold two issues in balance in a perspective that never fails to uphold the divine will, as Jesus does, when dealing with his precocious disciple Peter (Matt. 16: 23, NIV).While Christians have gone to great lengths to make Aliyah possible for Jews trapped in Jewish pogroms, Britain’s White Paper of 1939 and many notable Arabs influencing Western thinkinghave ignored their pleas for help. They would rather be beholden to the Arabs to whom the Bible is a corrupted book, and Jesus is not, who he claims to be.
Is Trump’s action questionable?
While assessing these convictions, one has to remember that President Trump was not the first to declare Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, which has been the capital for about 70 years now. Also, in 1995, a Democratic Congress passed a bill which was signed into law by PresidentClinton recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The law also required that the U.S. Embassy be relocated to Jerusalem by 1999.Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama unilaterally violated U.S. law for more than 20 years. President Trump is simply complying with the law.Only a country can ‘declare’ where its capital is located. Jerusalem did that many years ago (Backes, C., 2017).Trump’s Decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital was correct, because, Jerusalem only has ever been the Capital City of the Jews. Jerusalem is central to Jewish belief and not so much for Islam. Jordan controlled the eastern part in 1967, and not the Palestinian Arabs. All these sayings might stir violence from the other camp (Lange, D., 2017). Very few people can dispute the Jewish history of Jerusalem, and the fact it predated the Islamic presence by over 1,500 years. Even after the Islamic conquest during the 7th century, the city was never made a prestigious capital of another state.
Is Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a big deal?
While many countries don’t ‘officially’ recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, foreign leaders still meet with Israeli officials in government buildings in West Jerusalem. Trump’s recognition does little to change that. For political and security reasons, the United States has kept its embassy in Tel Aviv, which is symbolic of the divided nature of Jerusalem and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sometimes symbolism matters, and certainly this declaration, and potentially moving the embassy to Jerusalem, is designed to please some and enrage others (Mcneill, B., (2017).
USFP and Impact on Middle East
Trump has been clear about his support for Israel.He said, “My friendship with Israel is stronger than any other candidate’s”. “I want to make one thing clear. I want to strike a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians even if it is the most difficult to achieve.” (Strang, S. E., 2017, pp85, 86).The President’s election promise was: “I’m going to do more than other presidents with lessblood and treasure”. He wants to work through allies, who are Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who accept the American security umbrella,to deal with the adversaries, who are the Iranian alliance system and Russia. Iranians want to destroy the American alliance system and expel the United States from the Gulf, and certainly from the Middle East. (Gordon, P. H., Doran, M., & Alterman, J. B., 2019).It doesn’t cost Iran very much to interfere in Yemen and Bahrain or even support the Syrian government.The sanctions may increase the pain on Iran, but it’s not leading to the better and different policy that is meant to be the goal.So far, Iran has stuck with the deal, hoping to entice others, the European Union, China and India,to keep buying Iranian oil. Iran continues developing nuclear weapons.The Trump administration will face the same issues as the Obama and the Bush administrations. They faced this terrible binary choice between allowing Iran to have a nuclear‐weapons capability and using military force to stop it(Gordon, P. H., Doran, M., & Alterman, J. B., 2019).“Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision,” cries the prophet, as countries face the inexorable decisions regarding the Middle East and Israel in particular (Joel 3:14, NIV).
U.S. closes consulate in Jerusalem that served the Palestinians
The Trump administration has taken a unilateral step in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and moving the U.S. embassy without getting anything in return. Further, cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, closing the PLO office in Washington, and, most recently, supporting the Anti‐Terrorism Clarification Act, which have led the Palestinians to reject even security assistance.How much will Palestinians be open for the peace talk is yet to be seen. Trump made it a point to visit Bethlehem after his visit to Israel. However, the relationship built by Trump with Saudi Arabia signals for something better.The decision to close the American Embassy in Tel Aviv and merge all diplomatic actions in Palestine with the Embassy in Jerusalem hashad many mixed reactions. Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian diplomat and the authority’s chief negotiator, described the consulate’s closure as ‘the last nail in the coffin’ of the Trump administration’s efforts toward peace.Hanan Ashrawi, another veteran Palestinian diplomat, said in a statement that the closure was a ‘political assault on Palestinian rights and identity’ (Tarnopolsky, N., 2019).
How is this move being seen by Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East?
The Israeli Jewish population remains divided. The growing and emboldened rightwing applaudsand isthrilled to have uncompromising U.S. support. Many within the shrinking and embattled left wing are horrified. People on all sides might support Trump’s declaration in principle, and simply as a matter of fact, but wonder why he should needlessly provoke Palestinians, as well as the broader Muslim world, and cause more harm to the severely weakened peace process. Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims undoubtedly see it as another insult to their connection with Jerusalem, and further evidence that the United States cannot act as an honest broker in the Middle East. Palestinians have already erupted in protest and are clashing with Israeli forces in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza (Mcneill, B., 2017).Akers mentions on ‘the future of the Middle East’,the need to understand the changing world views of the Middle East, Jews and Arabs, and the Western world that are increasingly giving up on the Judeo-Christian world view. Oren concludes his chapter, ‘In search for Pax Americana’,mentioning that, American policy makers will press on with their civic mission as mediators and liberators, as no doubt, Trump has in his mind to do. The closer we approach the end of this age, American churches and evangelists will seek to save the region spiritually (Akers, S., n.d.) (Oren, M.B., 2007).
‘Trump is simply putting U.S. foreign policy back on a path that accords with nature-(Anton, M., 2019)’
It may seem that the Trump Administration has embarked on a complex set of foreign policies: affecting regional allies such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia; disrupting Arab‐Israeli relations by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; heightening tensions with Iran by threatening to scrap the nuclear deal; and escalating the pace of military operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria (Macdonald, P. K., 2018).Trump’s declaration on Israel’s capital, is in line with the covenant made by God, in spite of rulers of countries trying to shape it according to their wills and purposes. All that happened from the times of the Puritans till now,are in God’s Eternal Calendar. Hence it is vital to mention that whether this decision and declaration of President Trump towards the Middle East and his foreign policy impacts the neighbors of Israel for better or for worse, but by doing so, America surely has the continued favor of God’s Hand.
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