The most iconic moment of President Donald Trump’s visit to the Middle East was not his “speech on Islam“; it was his visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The Western Wall is a contested space, and that controversy has bled outside Israel’s borders. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently reignited the debate, mentioning the Wall as being in “Jerusalem”, instead of in Israel. It is a play on language often used to deny Israeli sovereignty over a space that clearly belongs to the Jewish people, as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, quickly rectified in response.
How we talk about religion matters. If we want to be effective in moving forward, it is important to be truthful. The truth is that Israel won the Six Day War, thereby liberating eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, which had seized it illegally when it attacked Israel in 1948-49 and expelled all Jews from eastern Jerusalem.
Israel has earned the right to reclaim Jerusalem fully. This also means that the Palestinians and other powers such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the UN and domestic interest groups do not get a veto over reality. If the new foreign policy standard is to work together to combat destructive forces, then it is also important to recognize that it is destructive to start a discussion from positions of falsehoods.
If we are going to “reset” the Middle East, we need to reset our thinking as well, starting with accepting that Israel has a right to exist. That includes confronting calls for the annihilation of the Jewish people, and contesting the dishonest re-imagining of borders that quite literally erase Israel from the map. Israel exists, and Israel has a legitimate claim to Jerusalem. Further, the Jewish people have proven themselves as more capable custodians of Jerusalem than their Muslim neighbors, who are already burdened by challenges in their own territory.
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