When President Harry Truman recognized the newborn State of Israel—eleven minutes after the Israelis declared their independence in May, 1948—he was playing the role that Arabs respect. Harry was a strong horse. We all recall Osama bin Laden’s statement that Arabs respect the strong horse, even if they do not like what that horse is doing.
Nothing could demonstrate a new direction in American Mideast policy better than for the next administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy there overnight. Israel is the only country in the world where the U.S. Embassy is not located in the city that the host country designates as its capital.
Most Americans would be surprised to learn that our U.S. Embassy in Israel is located in Tel Aviv. What’s with that? Several years ago, the Obama administration’s State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, engaged in a marathon tap dance around the simple question: What is the capital of Israel? Nuland is not alone in her studied avoidance of that question.
The handwringing by State Department careerists over naming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving our embassy there is of a piece with the State Department’s historic fears. Long before there was a State of Israel, the U.S. State Department warned that Arab countries would be enraged by American sponsorship of a Jewish State in their midst.
Sec. of State Robert Lansing weighed in at Paris in 1919 against President Woodrow Wilson’s hopes for a Jewish State in Palestine. Wilson, perhaps influenced by his boyhood in Presbyterian parsonage, supported a homeland for the Jewish people.
Wilson vocally backed British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s 1917 declaration of intent for a national home for the Jews in Palestine. But to no avail. The Balfour Declaration succeeded in winning the support of Jews and their Evangelical Christian friends worldwide for Britain’s wartime struggle against Kaiser Germany, but it was soon set aside by Britain’s other imperial interests in the Middle East.
At the close of World War II, a war that had been fought by Hitler’s Germany in no small part to annihilate Europe’s Jewish community, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. FDR hoped to overcome that desert despot’s aversion to a Jewish State. The President was suffering from congestive heart failure, and he was exhausted by his journey to the Yalta Summit meeting with Churchill and Stalin. Nonetheless, he sought to bring the Saudi monarch around. He appealed to Abdulaziz’s humanity. He told the king that three million Jews had been murdered in Poland.
“Then there should be plenty of room for the Jewish survivors to live in Poland,” the king replied cold-bloodedly. So much for the compassion of this Custodian of the Holy Places of Islam. No “Good Neighbor” policy here.
Harry Truman was thrust into the Oval Office after Roosevelt’s sudden death in 1945. He inherited a world of woe—including the unresolved issue of the Jewish homeland.
As Britain sought to limit her post-war commitments, the Labour Government that had ousted the pro-Zionist Winston Churchill searched for a way out of Palestine.
Ignoring the pro-Jewish Labour Party rank and file, Clement Atlee’s Cabinet came down hard on the Zionists in Palestine and openly favored the Arabs. British military officers even trained Transjordan’s Arab Legion, equipping it to make war on the burgeoning Jewish population of Palestine. The Labour government dug in its heels against aiding the Jews and failed to honor the Balfour Declaration. Labour’s perfidy led Jewish immigrants in Palestine to label their refugee camps “Bevingrads” (after Labour’s anti-Semitic Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin). And they bitterly referred to Palestine as “the twice promised land.”
President Truman, as well, faced open hostility in his own State Department. Sec. of State George C. Marshall was the prestigious five-star general who had been the military architect of U.S. victory in World War II. Sec. Marshall bluntly threatened to resign if Truman pressed on recognizing a Jewish State.
Undeterred, Truman succeeded in his bid to make the United States the first government in the world to recognize the new State of Israel. That was achievement enough for his day.
Truman later met Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in London. The former President was still stung by record low approval ratings back home. Ben Gurion told Harry he did not know what historians would make of the Truman Presidency, but in the annals of the Jewish people, Harry Truman’s name would be forever blessed. Truman, blunt-spoken and flinty, was rarely given to public displays of emotion. Still, Harry wept.
Truman’s bold gesture left the thorny question of Jerusalem’s status to a troubled future. Winston Churchill, out of office and out of sorts, growled at his successor in No. 10 Downing Street: “Let the Jews have Jerusalem. It is they who made it famous.”
On this as on so many things, Churchill was right. And on this, the United States should once again take point and be a leader. The Arabs may not like it, but they will grudgingly respect an America that lays down a marker in the Middle East for a more assertive foreign policy.
Failure to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel can only fuel the grim designs of Islamists who seek the eradication of the Jewish State. Their maps and textbooks already show the region devoid of Jews. Their support for Hamas in Gaza and the PLO on the West Bank shows they share the irredentist goal of wiping Israel off the map and re-styling Jerusalem as al Quds, its Arabic name.
Earlier in this administration, John Brennan, an Arabic speaker, stunned close observers of Mideast politics. He was the first high-ranking U.S. official to refer to Jerusalem by its Arabic name. And, in keeping with Muslim practice, he preceded the name Jerusalem by its Arabic name. Despite this (or, more likely, because of this), President Obama named Brennan his Director of the CIA. Such abject American positions keep alive the dangerous dreams of those who seek to make the Middle East a Judenrein—a region without Jews.
We Americans have a right to ask why Israel, of all nations in the world, is not able to name its own capital and have foreign diplomats respect that choice? When the Bundestag, representing a newly united Germany, voted to move its capital from Bonn to Berlin, the world took note. Every foreign embassy, especially those of the WWII victors the U.S., Britain, France, and Russia, quietly packed up in 1999 and moved the 596 km east to Berlin. There was no controversy.
No one was so rude as to point out that the last time Germany’s capital was located in Berlin, the government seated in that city planned two aggressive world wars. Nor did anyone note that FDR at Yalta had demanded, as a condition of nations joining the new UN, they should break off ties with Berlin and declare war against Hitler Germany!
To have mentioned such ironies in 1999 would have been undiplomatic. And besides, modern free Germany has been a model democracy in nearly every aspect. No one wants to see six and a half decades of German good conduct treated with anything but goodwill and respect.
That is why the Obama administration’s denial and the State Department’s intransigence on the subject of Jerusalem as capital of Israel must be overcome. The next administration can signal a new determination. We must not knuckle under to Islamist threats or take counsel of diplomats’ fears about an uprising on “the Arab street.” Events of the overblown Arab Spring show that there can be uprisings aplenty in the Arab world even without a firm American embassy presence in Jerusalem.
We have had U.S. embassies seized in Iran, blown up in Lebanon, overrun in Egypt, and a U.S. diplomatic compound attacked and burned in Benghazi, Libya. What has the policy of fear and appeasement gained for us in that perennially troubled region? It seems as if “Mideast Turmoil” has been painted on our TV screens.
Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since its re-founding in 1948, but it was the capital of the Jews of antiquity and the capital in the hearts of the Jewish people for three thousand years. Jerusalem has never been designated as the capital of any other political entity—not the Greeks nor the Romans, not the Turks nor the British, nor even the Jordanians when they occupied East Jerusalem for nineteen years.
Let’s move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It’s time for the United States to mount that strong horse.
Robert Morrison is a former Reagan official and senior fellow at the Family Research Council who blogs from Annapolis.
Photo: The Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature in Jerusalem. Source: Adiel lo via Wikimedia Commons.