Tel Aviv Diary: Jerusalem is a Distraction from Scandals

If there is one place President Donald J. Trump would clearly win an election today, it's in Israel.

Even in left-leaning Tel Aviv, most of the word on the street is, "Finally, someone did it! After all, Jerusalem has always been our capital."

The legal and diplomatic history of Jerusalem are of little interest to most people here, all of whom have grown up with the knowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, and almost none understanding why all the world's embassies are located in Tel Aviv.

Of course, to many prideful Tel Avivans (most of whom hardly ever venture to Jerusalem) the answer is obvious — i.e., Tel Aviv is a nicer place to work and live in, (but that's another matter).

The reactions to Trump's announcement and his decision to move the American Embassy have been interesting.

I participated in a TV panel on i24News on Wednesday night with Yair Hirschfeld, one of the architects of the Oslo accords. I had expected him to be very critical of Trump's announcement. In fact, he was not. Instead, he said he believed while this might be a dangerous move, this might be an opportunity to restart talks with the Palestinians, who may now have more realistic expectations.

Israeli forces stand guard in Jerusalem's Old City on December 8, 2017. Israel deployed hundreds of additional police officers after Palestinian calls for protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers against Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty

Hirschfeld noted that, as the Palestinians have turned down previous proposals, including (according to him) one developed with the Saudis and the Egyptians, maybe now they will understand they cannot keep turning down offers — a theory I heard many times the night the announcement was made.

Of course, the Palestinians do not agree. Another panelist, Ahmad Ghanain, a member of the Palestinian National Council, said that this was the end of the United States' role in the peace process. He called the declaration a dictation by Trump, and that Trump's pronouncement put an end to the "deal of the century."

The more extreme the criticism of Trump's announcement, the more Israelis defended it. Most Israelis do not understand why everyone is being so critical of the President's statement, and are deeply incensed by comments like those of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, who declared that Trump has "created a ring of fire around the Middle East."

By doing what? By officially recognizing the fact that Jerusalem — i.e., the place which every US President since Richard Milhous Nixon visited — is the capital of the state of Israel?

Certainly, instinctive support for Trump's decision is generally tinged with a realization that everything relating to Jerusalem is not normal. It is not a normal city. The smallest perceived "provocation" surrounding anything related to Jerusalem has, in the past, resulted in a wave of violence, often leading to many deaths.

The IDF has reinforced its presence in the West Bank as a result of Trump's announcement. In addition, the US State Department has issued a series of travel warnings.

The Trump administration seems to be convinced that whatever violence might follow the president's Jerusalem announcement will be short lived. Israelis remain slightly more concerned, remembering that the second intifada broke out after the late former prime minister Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount (albeit only one of the contributing factors), costing over 1,000 Israeli lives and lasting for years.

Trump's declaration was no doubt popular with his base. Moreover, instead of the latest revelations about his campaign's involvement with Russia, fulfilling his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel dominated the news for at least two or three news cycles.

In Israel, where the news has been all about the corruption investigations into Netanyahu, as well as other Likud officials, Trump's announcements had the same effect.

However, in a few days the news will move on and return to the burgeoning scandals on both sides of the Atlantic, while the day-to-day lives of Israelis and Palestinians will remain unchanged and Jerusalem, which Israelis have always hailed as their capital, and the "City of Gold" (Yerushalayim shel zahav), continues to be Israel's poorest city.

Marc Schulman is a Multimedia Historian.

Tel Aviv Diary: Jerusalem is a Distraction from Scandals | Opinion