UNT historian, political scientists comment on U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 20:44

The following University of North Texas faculty members are available to discuss President Donald J. Trump formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and setting in motion a plan to move the U.S. Embassy for Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump's action sparked protests and riots across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Michael Greig, UNT professor of political science, and Elizabeth Oldmixon, UNT professor of political science and editor-in-chief of Politics and Religion, recently wrote in Religion in Public about Trump's decision on Jerusalem. Richard Golden is the director of UNT's Jewish and Israel Studies Program and a professor of history.

In their Religion in Public piece, Greig and Oldmixon pointed to the decision being about domestic considerations and not just about "a realistic pursuit of national interest." 

"There is one key Republican constituency for whom U.S. policy toward Israel is highly salient—white evangelical Protestants," Greig and Oldmixon wrote. "Among Christians, white evangelicals are by far the most sympathetic to Israelis, and in the last decades these Christians have moved en masse to align with the Republican Party. With this context in mind, maybe the president's shift is an effort to throw red meat to a religious base constituency."

The professors noted, however, that many Americans — not just evangelical Christians — consistently express more support and sympathy for Israelis than Palestinians in conflicts.

The decision on Jerusalem, the professors said, "comes with no clear foreign policy benefits to the U.S., does little to advance the peace process, and undermines the ability of the U.S. to play a role in helping Israelis and Palestinians find a settlement to their conflict."

"While this decision may bring a short-run political benefit at home, the long-term foreign policy costs to this decision are likely to be much larger," they wrote.

Golden said East Jerusalem could have become a capital city at the end of Israel's 1948 War of Independence, when Israel held West Jerusalem and Jordan controlled East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"No Arab or Turkish government in more than 1,200 years of Muslim rule made Jerusalem its capital. The Quran does not mention Jerusalem at all. The Hebrew Bible mentions Jerusalem hundreds of times. The Arab demand for Jerusalem as a Muslim capital is a 20th-century development," Golden said.

Golden notes that Israel's peace proposal in 2000 offered East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, along with Gaza and close to 100 percent of the West Bank. In 2008, Israel’s peace proposal also offered East Jerusalem and more land to the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians rejected these offers, just as Arabs had done in 1937 and 1947. Thus, history shows that the dispute over Jerusalem is not a primary reason for the failure of an Arab-Israeli peace agreement," he said.

He said the failure is due to "the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a nation, the Palestinian refusal to give up the fantasy of the 'right of return' — the right of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1947-48 to return to a land they have never lived in —, the Palestinian refusal to cease venerating and funding terrorism and the killing of Jews and the Palestinian desire to unite with Hamas, a terrorist organization whose goal is the destruction on Israel."

Golden said the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital "doesn’t mean an end to peace talks, a future offer of a Palestinian capitol in East Jerusalem and a possible two-state solution." 


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