How are Israelis treated in the US?
Before Donald Trump became President of the United States, he was in the real estate business - everything revolved around apartments, golf courses, hotels. This also applies to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who used to build high-rise buildings and is now a high-ranking advisor in the White House, tasked by Trump with building peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And it goes for Jason Greenblatt, who spent his entire professional life dealing with real estate until Trump appointed him his commissioner for international negotiations last year.
In this respect, the question that the Israeli-American media entrepreneur Haim Saban asked Kushner at an event in Washington a few days ago was not too heretical. Kushner should explain how he is going to do it with the peace in the Holy Land, which he has been tinkering with for months. And Saban made no secret of his doubts: "There is not a single Middle East expert in the whole group," he teased. "I mean, how do you work with lots of people who have no idea about anything? What are you guys doing?"
On Wednesday Saban got at least part of his answer. In a brief address, Trump said the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the State Department to arrange for the American embassy to move there from Tel Aviv. For decades, he criticized, his predecessors in office had avoided these steps for fear of torpedoing a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict. But Israelis and Palestinians have not come any closer to peace.
That is why he is now saying aloud what everyone knows anyway: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Israeli parliament, the Supreme Court and the head of government have their seat there. American presidents would be welcomed in Jerusalem when they visit Israel. If the sovereign state of Israel regards Jerusalem as its capital, then the US would have to accept it.
That sounded simple. In fact - and Donald Trump knows that too - the question of whose capital Jerusalem is, Israel or Palestine, is one of the most intricate in the history of diplomacy. That is precisely why it has not been openly answered since Israel was founded in 1948. But Trump is apparently not up for such restraint and diplomatic caution.
Trump does not see himself as a diplomat, but as a businessman
That in turn has to do with his professional past. Trump does not see himself as a diplomat or a traditional foreign politician, but as a businessman. When he describes a peace solution between Israel and the Palestinians as the "ultimate deal", he means it literally: Ending the Middle East conflict is the greatest possible deal for him. And business can only be done if the business partners acknowledge the reality, even if this reality is unpleasant.
Against this background, Jerusalem is like a property. It may be valuable, controversial, and historically burdened. But to whom it belongs in reality, who is in charge there in reality and whose capital it is in reality, there is no doubt about that.
Trump emphasized this point of view several times in his address. All the trappings of the past few years have brought nothing. "I only acknowledge the obvious," he said. "That has to be done." So while the world is looking anxiously to Jerusalem and fearing an outbreak of violence, Trump assesses the situation differently: Recognizing Jerusalem will make peace easier, he said.
The White House reasoning: Trump cleared such a dispute - the status of Jerusalem - that had been negotiated for decades; and without result, because America's ambiguous attitude has always encouraged the Palestinians not to acknowledge the reality. Now, however, there is clarity.
Now, rigorous clarity may come in handy in real estate deals. Nobody has to buy a skyscraper; both partners can get up and leave at any time if the conditions are not to their liking. Israelis and Palestinians cannot. In addition, it is sometimes the express aim of diplomatic negotiations to change reality. It is not always clear whether Trump is clear about the Middle East.
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