In Israel’s early years, every time the US ambassador traveled to Jerusalem to meet with government leaders, he would have his chauffeur stop his car at the entrance to the city, and replace its diplomatic license plates with regular civilian plates. The State Department refused to recognize that Jerusalem was part of Israel. The license plates were for Israel. And so, in a show of contempt and rejection of Israel’s right to its capital city, he removed his diplomatic plates before entering Jerusalem, and put them back on when he left.
President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize the State of Israel, just moments after David Ben-Gurion declared its independence on May 14, 1948. But his recognition was skin deep. Truman, like all of his successors until Donald Trump, recognized Israel’s existence but didn’t recognize the Jewishness of Israel. He saw Israel as a refuge for Holocaust survivors and other Jews fleeing persecution. But he didn’t accept that the nation of Israel in 1948 was the nation of Israel from the Bible. He didn’t accept that the Jewish refugees in European DP camps were the descendants of the prophets or that the forefathers of the kibbutzniks in the Jezreel Valley were the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Israel, as far as he was concerned, was a new state, a poor state of Jewish refugees. And he treated it accordingly.
Truman’s anti-historical view of the Jewish state produced a two-faced American policy towards Israel. On the one hand, the American officials spoke warmly of the Jewish homeland. On the other hand, they treated Israel like a beggar that should be thankful for scraps and loose change.
This patronizing American approach changed after the 1967 Six-Day War. President Lyndon Johnson realized that a nation capable of triumphing over four enemy armies in six days and tripling its size is a nation worthy of respect and better treatment. Johnson upgraded Israel militarily and supported it diplomatically in the aftermath of the war.
But America’s ambivalence towards Zionism – the liberation movement of the ancient Jewish people – persevered. The US’s adamant refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Washington’s opposition to all Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza attested to this fact.
For America to recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s control and Israel’s sovereign rights to these areas, America’s leaders would need to recognize the simple fact that Israel is not a refuge for a persecuted, pitiable people, but the homeland of the eternal nation of Israel. And all US presidents until Trump preferred to deny this truth. As a matter of US policy, they transferred the Jewish nation’s historical rights to the Palestinians who have no national history.
But then, three years ago, Trump entered the White House. Tuesday, Trump said that Israel is a light to the nations, that the land of Israel is the promised land, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. He said that Jerusalem cannot be liberated because it’s already been liberated. He said that no one will be removed from their home for peace. Among other things, he conditioned Palestinians statehood on full Palestinian recognition of the Jewish people’s rights to their historic homeland in the land of Israel.
Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro delivered a not-particularly-veiled threat to Israelis who might be tempted to accept Trump’s framework for peace. Shapiro stunned the diplomatic world when he refused to leave Israel at the end of his term and instead took a position at a left-leaning Israeli think tank. He has used his position to criticize President Trump’s Middle East policies.
In an interview with Army Radio Sunday, Shapiro said, “I think Israeli citizens should take into account that in less than a year there could be a new, Democratic administration – if not in a year then in five years. Trump won’t be president forever. It is important to know that any Democratic candidate will oppose this plan and that no Democratic president will be bound by it.”
Shapiro continued, “If Trump is encouraging Israel to take unilateral steps such as annexing the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs, that guarantees there will be a clash with a Democratic administration in less than a year. I don’t think this is a positive thing for the relations between the countries and I advise against immediate actions that future administrations will oppose.”
In other words, Shapiro said, if Israel supports Trump’s plan, which supports Israel in ways that no previous president ever did – least of all Shapiro’s boss Obama – the Democrats will punish Israel for doing so. If Israel wants good relations with a Democratic administration in the future, it will need to agree to not secure its interests, not now, and not ever.
It is not at all clear that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz understands the gravity of the moment. Shapiro essentially reinforced the point that Trump is providing Israel with a chance to secure its interests that it isn’t likely to receive again. The fact that Gantz thought it was appropriate to attack Netanyahu from Washington on Monday indicated that he places his personal ambitions above the good of the country.
So too, it is far from clear that the leaders of the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria understand the significance of Trump’s actions. On Tuesday, Trump recognized the truth at the foundation of Zionism and made that truth the foundation of America’s policy regarding the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
Trump is a true friend of the Jewish people. He didn’t offer us a perfect plan. But he offered us a plan that we can live with. That alone sets it apart from all the American plans that preceded it. It would be a sin for us not to support it. Netanyahu pledged to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria on Sunday. Every Jew in Israel and worldwide should expect that he and his ministers fulfill this pledge. And every Jew in Israel and worldwide should feel thankful to Trump for his friendship and for his courage to embrace the truth.