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Opinion Under Trump, the U.S. has abandoned the last shred of balance on Israel

The United States officially opened its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem on May 14, fulfilling President Trump's pledge to recognize the city as Israel's capital. (Video: Reuters)

Monday marked the moment when the policy of the United States government toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lost all complexity, all ambiguity and all nuance.

On Monday, we were confronted with two sets of pictures. On one side, thousands of Palestinians gathering at the Gaza border to protest are being shot down by Israeli snipers. As I write, at least 43 people have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry; those numbers will undoubtedly rise.

On the other side, representatives of the Trump administration, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, some Republican donors and a couple of evangelical megachurch pastors who have said vile, bigoted things about Islam and Muslims, are celebrating the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Here’s how President Trump marked the occasion:

We should note that it’s not just him. “In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Monday in a statement. “Every nation should have the right to choose its capital. I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.”

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Schumer didn’t say anything about the Palestinians being killed and wounded — a vulgar moral abdication — let alone how he thinks the Trump administration’s policies are going to do anything but make peace in the region less likely.

For many years, the behavior of the Israeli government, with regard to the Palestinians, was a source of frustration for both Republican and Democratic presidents. Israel is a staunch ally and we, in turn, are its patron; we give them about $4 billion a year in military aid, and over the years we have provided nearly $135 billion in aid, not adjusted for inflation. But a succession of American presidents has urged the Israeli government — without success — to curtail the building of settlements in the West Bank, knowing that those settlements make it more difficult to arrive at a peace agreement that will allow Palestinians to control their own destiny.

Throughout, the United States has presented itself as not only a necessary partner in negotiations to end the conflict but, at the very least, a semi-neutral arbiter — one concerned about the future of both parties despite its closeness to Israel. It has remained committed to the goal of a two-state solution, in which Israel has the security it craves, the occupation of Palestinian lands ends, and the Palestinians are granted the right of self-determination.

President Trump congratulated Israel on the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem during a pre-recorded address played at the opening ceremony on May 14. (Video: Reuters)

Until now.

The current American position is that we would accept a two-state solution, but only if both parties agree. Given that the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is adamantly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, that position is meaningless. And if you asked any Palestinian, they would have said that previous American governments only pretended to be neutral, while they were really enabling the occupation and seeking only the furtherance of Israeli interests.

Whether you agree or not, under President Trump, the United States is not pretending anything. We have declared unambiguously that we care only about Israel’s interests — or, to be more accurate, Israel’s interests as understood by the conservative Likud party — and that we no longer have any concern for Palestinian rights, Palestinian lives or the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

The decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem was a symbolic one, but it is a vitally important symbol. Because both Israel and the Palestinians claim the city as their capital, no country had put an embassy there, choosing instead to locate them in Tel Aviv. Previous presidents have promised to move our embassy but not followed through, one after another deciding it would only inflame tensions. The fact that others had promised it, but not delivered, was no doubt a powerful incentive for Trump to relocate the embassy, since he loves being able to say he did what nobody else could do. It’s also obvious he feels absolutely no concern or empathy for the Palestinians and their fate.

David Friedman, who was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Israel with zero diplomatic experience — though he was Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer — gave an extraordinary interview to NPR on Monday, during which he made the United States’s new position clear. Host Steve Inskeep noted that, before Israel’s independence, the international community envisioned Jerusalem as an international city, but in subsequent years the Israeli government took actions to create facts on the ground that would solidify its control over it. He asked Friedman whether moving our embassy to Jerusalem was consonant with that effort, and here’s part of Friedman’s reply:

Well first of all, I would take issue with beginning the history lesson in 1947. Go back another 3,500 years. Go back to the Bible. I’ll tell you an interesting story. One of the great commentators on the Bible, his name was Rashi, and he said, the reason that the Bible begins with the creation of the world is to create the chain of title from God directly to the Jewish people for the land of Israel, so that if the nations of the world say that the Jewish people don’t own the land of Israel, they would point to the fact that God created the world and gave it to them.

That doesn’t allow much room for negotiation, does it? If the U.S. ambassador is arguing that, when it comes to Jerusalem, there is a “chain of title from God directly to the Jewish people for the land of Israel,” then there’s nothing to talk about.

You might remember that when he came into office, Trump claimed he would try to arrive at a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, even as he acknowledged that it was a difficult challenge. He even assigned his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to oversee the task (when he wasn’t solving the opioid crisis, reforming the prison system and reinventing government, that is). But that’s all behind us now.

The policy of our government may be unstated, but it is crystal clear: The United States will no longer seek peace. The Netanyahu government is free to do whatever it wants — no matter how brutal — and we will not object. As for the Palestinians, we no longer care. They can accept their subjugation or they can cry out in rage against it, but it’s all the same to us.