"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem..."
For too long, like the Bourbons of the ancien regime in France, American diplomacy seemed to remember everything but learn nothing. And so the Hon. Donald J. Trump of all people now enters the gallery of historic figures in Jewish history, alongside Cyrus the Great and Xerxes, who have supported the Jews' claim to their holy city.
And the world sounds shocked -- shocked! -- to discover the ancient Jewish connection to Jerusalem. "Today we finally acknowledge the obvious," President Trump declared, "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. ... It would be folly to assume that repeating the same exact formula would now produce a different or better result." Here's hoping that he has broken with the failed policy of the past years and decades.
This president is scarcely the first to promise that he would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv by the sea to Jerusalem, the city on a hill, whose very name speaks of peace. "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering. ... There will, of course, be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement," but he appealed for "calm, for moderation and for the voices of tolerance to prevail over the purveyors of hate."
Fat chance. For the first rule to follow when statesmen find themselves in a hole is to stop digging. Which is just what Trump is doing. His announcement is but a bow to current and past reality. The western part of the city has always been the seat of Israel's government, and it was way past time to remove any doubt about that. The president's declaration also drew bipartisan support in Washington. To quote Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, this president's announcement represents "an important step in the right direction." He added that "unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there." At last.
Eliot Engel, the leader of the Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined in the bipartisan praise of the president's decision because, as he put it, it "helps correct a decades-long indignity."
But the dissenters we will always have with us, which in this case included Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the minority in the House. She warned of "mass protests" and her view was echoed by other congressional leaders in the Democratic minority. Over in the Senate, the Democratic senator from Delaware and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Christopher Coons, complained that "President Trump's decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital today appears to be driven more by his desire to fulfill a campaign promise than to generate progress toward direct peace talks." But why couldn't it be both? A promise made now has become a promise fulfilled. End of story, or it should be.
Except that those who would exchange a momentary security for liberty may find out that they're left with neither. Jerusalem is again to become a flash point in the world's politics, but those who allow themselves to be bulled will never know peace, only a pause till the next demand is made. Enough. Let the word go out from this time and place that yielding to bullies will only exacerbate the world's troubles, not end them.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.