Editor’s Note: Jason D. Greenblatt is a former assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations in the Trump administration. Follow him on Twitter at @GreenblattJD. The views expressed in this commentary are his alone. View more opinion on CNN.
On December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump made history. In a bold and courageous decision, he proclaimed what many knew in their hearts: that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. Trump has long understood that Jerusalem was, is and will always remain the capital of Israel.
I was not surprised by his proclamation, because he campaigned on it. I was confident that what I wrote in a 2016 piece, “Trump Gets it Right on Jerusalem,” would come to pass. Because the Trump that I know always tries his best to follow through on his promises.
Trump was clear that it was still up to the parties to negotiate the final status issues and that the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites was to continue. Each decision over the past three years made by Trump regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been to support and work toward peace while recognizing reality and not being afraid to speak the truth.
And the truth is that Jerusalem has been the most significant place in the world for the Jewish people for thousands of years. Judaism’s holiest sites are located in Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount – where the two ancient Jewish temples stood and were destroyed, and where Jews, wherever they are in the world, face when praying – and the Western Wall.
Jerusalem also contains areas of holiness and significant importance to Christians, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and to Muslims, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which were constructed in the 7th century on the site where the two Jewish holy temples once stood.
Jerusalem is an extraordinary city, perhaps the most unique in the world. It is brimming with ethnic and religious diversity, beauty, tolerance and is deeply important to billions of people around the world.
No one with any credibility denies the attachment of Muslims and Christians to Jerusalem. Yet, shockingly, there are many who deny Judaism’s spiritual and historical ties to Jerusalem. For example, in 2016, UNESCO tried to pretend that over 3,000 years of the Jewish people’s ties to Jerusalem did not exist, when its executive board voted in 2016 to refer to the Western Wall and Temple Mount only by their Muslim names. Some prominent Palestinians also attempt to persuade the world that Jerusalem is not a historically Jewish city by accusing Israel and others of attempting to “Judaize” the city of Jerusalem, as if it was not a Jewish city for thousands of years. Such actions are thoroughly outrageous and deceitful.
I was proud to play a role in Trump’s proclamation, together with numerous wonderful colleagues in the US government. I was equally proud to play a role in seeking a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Those countries who think that a solution to this extraordinarily complicated conflict can be resolved by making unrealistic demands of Israel, such as rejecting their claim to Jerusalem, by endlessly arguing legal positions about the conflict, by international conferences, or by resolutions at the United Nations, are tragically misleading Palestinians.
When countries that comprise the United Nations Security Council, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and others challenge the steps taken by the President they drive the prospects for peace further and further away and harm the people of the region.
So too do they undermine the prospects for peace when they challenge the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, and the recognition that cities and neighborhoods (what many call “settlements”) in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank, are not per se a violation of international law. When people mistakenly refer to the West Bank as the “Occupied Territories” or, wholly inaccurately as the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” when, in fact, the land is disputed, they stand in the way of a negotiation.
Countries can spend decades more arguing about international law, so-called international consensus, who is right and who is wrong, and constantly referring to stale talking points that have never, and are unlikely to ever, achieve peace. These approaches have proven to be futile and prolong the suffering of the people of the region; no court or judge in the world will ever be able to resolve this tangled web.
When countries do not make clear that the only realistic path to peace is through direct negotiations between the parties, they prolong the conflict. The approach of those countries who proclaim otherwise only harms Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region, and enables terrorist organizations such as Hamas, together with the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whose stated goal is the destruction of the State of Israel, to continue in their destructive ways.
Israel and its Arab neighbors have taken steps in the past few years in the pursuit of normalization. But an immense amount of work still must be done. Only time will tell if the Trump administration’s deeply dedicated efforts will achieve progress on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
All of the people in the region are held back by this conflict in so many ways. They all deserve better, and more.
Until a peace accord is reached, Israelis will continue to suffer from very significant security challenges as a result of the continuing conflict. Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza under the rule of Hamas, will continue to suffer from a leadership thoroughly disinterested in improving their lives in any meaningful way.
It is high time for hard truths to be told. The next generation of Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis, Emiratis, Bahrainis, Qataris, Omanis, Kuwaitis and others in the region, deserve better.
I have traveled extensively through parts of the Levant and the Gulf Region for several years, and know that there is a serious longing to end this conflict. The time for misleading those who suffer from the conflict is over. The time for speaking the truth, recognizing reality and seeking to build a better future, as Trump and his administration have, is now.