Tel Aviv Diary: Why Did Pence Abandon His Trip to Jerusalem?

Residents of Tel Aviv woke up this morning to the news that Vice President Michael R. Pence will not be coming to Israel this week.

Pence’s change in itinerary makes no difference to them, as the VP was not coming to Tel Aviv. Like all foreign dignitaries who visit Israel, Pence was going to Jerusalem, (the country’s allegedly unrecognized capital).

Tel Avivans are happy to leave the traffic jams and street closings to their cousins in Jerusalem while they go on with their lives, creating the technologies that have been the secret behind Israel’s strong economy.

On Monday, the United States cast the lone dissenting voice at the Security Council against a resolution aimed at stopping nations from recognizing what is a fact — i.e. that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The majority of Israelis cheered and most are convinced that President Donald J. Trump is indeed a true friend.

Of course, the Palestinians are expected to move the resolution to the General Assembly, where it will pass easily.

While Trump remains very popular here in Israel., for those who follow world events more closely, these past two weeks have been a disaster, hopefully, put to an end by the cancellation of the Pence visit.

The US veto at the UN Security Council was required because Trump opened a can of worms for no reason. Like so much of his incoherent foreign policy, his announcement on Jerusalem accomplished only two things: it united a divided Muslim world and increased the level of violence in the region.

This is not in any way to justify the Palestinian reaction, or the backlash from the rest of the world. After all, the sole thing the President did was affirm the obvious — without making any statement about the long-term future of Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, what Trump has not yet grasped the power of the words of the President of United States, (a fact that is abundantly clear from his constant tweeting).

In this case, Trump’s speech on Jerusalem brought a subject to the forefront that Israelis have always known, and that much of the rest of the world accepted de facto — that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of Israel.

That being said, most politicians worldwide understand the highly incendiary nature of this issue, and Israelis, who by-and-large know that in the current political configuration serious peace talks are unlikely, would prefer issues such as Jerusalem remain undiscussed while Israel continues to grow and develop stronger strategic relations with a growing number of regimes in the Arab world.

Instead, Trump’s announcement has created a needless firestorm. That looked like it was about to be reignited when a White House spokesman, in advance of the visit by Pence to the Western Wall, stated that they could not imagine a peace agreement in which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel — once again, stating the obvious, but resulting in three days of angry protests by the Palestinians, corresponding with the Vice President’s now cancelled visit.  

Whether or not the Pence visit was cancelled for the reported reason — i.e. his need to stay in Washington until the tax bill is passed or because all of his meetings with everyone other than the Israelis were cancelled due to Trump’s announcement—will remain unanswered, at least for now. However, most Israelis are happy to see the Vice President’s visit delayed.

Meanwhile, many Israelis celebrate the newly issued National Security Strategy released by the White House, specifically the statement:

For generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region.

Today, the threats from jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats.

While the US strategy blueprint presents an accurate depiction for the Middle East today, that same document seems to ignore the seven-decade long conflict, which may not be the central point of contention in the Middle East today but remains the central conflict Israelis face.

But the document should trouble Israelis in a very different way. The overall tone of it overturns the American security policy that has existed since the middle of World War II, developing and nurturing alliances of nations that will work together to achieve joint goals that will ultimately result in enhanced security for all Americans, as well as the rest of the planet.

Instead, the new US security blueprint proclaims as its overarching theme: “This National Security Strategy puts America first.”

America will no longer lead the world. America will no longer be a beacon of freedom and democracy to the world. America will, simply asserted, “put American first.”

To Israelis, who have been living under the protective umbrella of American world leadership for 70 years, this should be an extremely frightening tactical approach. For those who understand the full implications of this bold new policy reversal, it is indeed.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

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