Eli Lake: Straight talk could lead to start of peace talks

The Dallas Morning News - - Viewpoints - Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View colum­nist. Twit­ter: @Elilake

Ayear ago, when mem­bers of Don­ald Trump’s tran­si­tion team first said they in­tended to move the U.S. Em­bassy to Jerusalem, I was skep­ti­cal. I thought such a move was too risky.

I have since changed my mind. That col­umn came out right be­fore the out­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion broke prece­dent and ab­stained from a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion that said all of East Jerusalem was ef­fec­tively oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. This would mean any Is­raeli con­struc­tion within the dis­puted ter­ri­tory was a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. Barack Obama’s part­ing gift to the Pales­tini­ans made U.S. recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal more ur­gent.

But what re­ally changed my mind was this sum­mer’s metal de­tec­tor up­ris­ing. Is­raeli Arabs be­gan a ram­page near the mosque that sits atop the Tem­ple Mount. The gun­men fled into the es­planade around the mosque and be­gan fir­ing back at Is­raeli po­lice of­fi­cers.

What hap­pened next was both tragic and cyn­i­cal. While Pales­tinian leader Mah­moud Ab­bas con­demned the ter­ror­ists, his po­lit­i­cal party, Fatah, also called for “days of rage.” Was this in re­sponse to the gun­men at the al-aqsa Mosque? No, it was be­cause Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties sought to place metal de­tec­tors at the al-aqsa com­pound fol­low­ing a hor­rific shoot­ing.

The tra­di­tional way to un­der­stand this episode is that it proves how much of a tin­der­box the Jerusalem is­sue is. Al­ready Pales­tini­ans in Gaza have be­gun “days of rage” in protest of Trump’s de­ci­sion.

But of­fi­cial Amer­i­can neu­tral­ity on Jerusalem has not stopped Pales­tinian lead­ers from ex­er­cis­ing a riot veto be­fore. In­deed, neu­tral­ity has cre­ated a moral haz­ard.

Just look at the con­di­tions that led to the Sec­ond In­tifada in 2000. The of­fi­cial jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for that up­ris­ing was the visit by Ariel Sharon, be­fore his elec­tion as prime min­is­ter, to the Tem­ple Mount. But that was a pre­text. As Pales­tinian Me­dia Watch has doc­u­mented, Yasser Arafat, the late Pales­tinian leader, had al­ready planned the Sec­ond In­tifada, af­ter the fi­nal round of Oslo ne­go­ti­a­tions un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton col­lapsed, weeks be­fore Sharon’s visit to the Tem­ple Mount.

In Clin­ton’s fi­nal months in of­fice, the of­fi­cial line from the U.S. gov­ern­ment was for both sides to ease ten­sions, as he fran­ti­cally tried to restart peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. Un­der Ge­orge W. Bush, the po­si­tion was pretty much the same. It was not un­til 2002, when the U.S. dis­cov­ered a ship­ment of weapons from Iran to the Pales­tinian Author­ity, that Bush de­cided to cut Arafat off and call for new elec­tions. This, how­ever, did not stop the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion from con­tin­u­ing to work the peace process. That same year, Bush be­came the first Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to call for an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state.

None of this is to say the Pales­tini­ans do not have real griev­ances. They do. Pales­tini­ans still live un­der oc­cu­pa­tion in the West Bank and block­ade in Gaza. Is­rael de­tains thou­sands of peo­ple in mil­i­tary pris­ons where they are not af­forded free tri­als.

But it does show that West­ern sen­si­tiv­ity on Jerusalem has al­lowed Pales­tinian lead­ers to weaponize the is­sue. And that’s the real dan­ger of stick­ing to the pol­icy of Jerusalem neu­tral­ity. It feeds a Pales­tinian il­lu­sion: With enough pa­tience and rage, one day the Jews will be evicted from their eter­nal cap­i­tal. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen.

Obama aides used to say they were giving Is­rael tough love. They said a real friend won’t al­low Is­rael to keep ex­pand­ing set­tle­ments when even­tu­ally there needs to be a two-state so­lu­tion.

Trump is do­ing some­thing like this for the Pales­tini­ans. A real friend won’t al­low Pales­tinian lead­ers to keep promis­ing to lib­er­ate a city that is the cap­i­tal of its peace part­ner. That straight talk should not be the end of peace talks, but the be­gin­ning.

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