Supporters of Israel hate it when people use the word “apartheid” to describe the country, but we don’t have another term for a political system in which one ethnic group rules over another, confining it to small islands of territory and denying it full political representation.
Palestinians protesting the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images)
Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times, January 9, 2018
Last month, Donald Trump announced that the United States would move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, infuriating the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Despite what some feared, the move didn’t spark widespread unrest in Muslim countries.
While the world rejected the new policy — the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9 to condemn it — Arab states seemed to tacitly accept it. As The New York Times reported last week, an Egyptian intelligence officer even called influential talk-show hosts urging them to steer their audiences away from anti-Israel outrage.
For some conservatives in the United States, the apathetic Arab response proves that Trump was right. The Daily Caller gloated about Trump’s refusal to allow “Palestinian threats of violence” to sway the United States. In National Review, Douglas Murray wrote that the “U.S. has stared down the men of violence and — for the time being at least — come out from the encounter on top.”
This argument misses the main reason to oppose the Jerusalem announcement, apart from the continued suffering of the Palestinians, which few in American politics particularly care about. Trump’s decision wasn’t disastrous because it risked causing riots but because, long-term, it endangers whatever thin chance remains of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the alternative to a two-state solution is one state, a greater Israel that includes the occupied territories. That state can be Jewish or it can be democratic, but it cannot be both. Trump’s embassy decision was thus another nail in the coffin of liberal Zionism.
When the administration initially announced plans to move the embassy, it claimed it was not prejudging the status of Jerusalem in a final peace deal. But Palestinians and Israelis alike understood Trump to be giving the Israeli government carte blanche to continue claiming Palestinian territory.