By Gilad Erdan
Monday, May 14, is the day that the United States Embassy in Israel will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is not merely a change in address, but an historic event that will correct a decades-old injustice and lay the groundwork for a peace based on truth.
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. For thousands of years, Jews around the world turned three times a day toward Jerusalem in prayer, and ended their most important ceremonies with the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem!” As Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared in 1949, “Jerusalem is the very heart of Israel.”
Unfortunately, since Israel’s founding exactly seventy years ago, most countries have housed their embassies in Tel Aviv. Despite the fact that Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, the embassy of our greatest friend and ally remained outside our capital.
As President Donald Trump noted in announcing this change in U.S. policy, “Through all of these years, presidents representing the U.S. have declined to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In fact, we have declined to acknowledge any Israeli capital at all.”
This refusal by the international community to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital helped feed Palestinian rejectionism and delegitimization of the Jewish people’s connection to their holiest city. And when you delegitimize the presence of a people, you legitimize violence against them. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government’s denial of the Jewish connection to Israel and Jerusalem, as well as their incitement to terror, constitute the greatest obstacle to peace.
This rejectionism is a key element in official PA rhetoric and propaganda. One week after President Trump’s December 2017 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (without taking a position as to the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty), Abbas declared that Jerusalem is a “Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Christian city” and that Israel’s presence is illegitimate. At the same time, Abbas’ Fatah movement began to call for “days of rage,” while the official PA daily printed a cartoon of a Palestinian cutting off the arm of a Jew with a cleaver.
The message from the leadership to the Palestinian street was clear. That month, Palestinian firebomb attacks and violent riots increased more than ten-fold.
The launch of the wave of violence in December 2017 was made possible by the ongoing and systematic PA incitement to terror. This incitement includes glorifying terrorists responsible for the murder of dozens as role models, naming schools and summer camps after them, and paying monthly salaries to incarcerated terrorists (salaries which increase with the severity of their crimes).
Words can kill, and this incitement, both before and during December 2017, led to numerous attempted terror attacks.
Fortunately, the Israeli police and security forces have successfully foiled the vast majority of attempted terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. As Israel’s Public Security Minister, I have prioritized personal safety and security in the city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The cutting-edge operational and technological innovations which we have implemented, together with unprecedented initiatives to strengthen the relationship between the Israeli police and Jerusalem’s Arab residents, have helped make Jerusalem one of Israel’s safest cities. In line with Israel’s foundational values, we have been able to maintain the freedom of worship and security of all, while greatly weakening extremist elements.
If Abbas and the PA choose to fan the flames of violence once again following the embassy move, the Israeli police are prepared to ensure the safety of all of Jerusalem’s residents and visitors.
As an overriding principle, I firmly believe that leaders must never allow threats of violence and terror to dictate their actions. We are very happy that the American administration has not allowed Palestinian threats to derail its resolve to move the embassy, and we call on all other world leaders to follow suit.
In the long run, the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital can help promote a viable peace in the region. A lasting peace must be based on reality. American leadership in recognizing the self-evident reality that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital is already encouraging other countries to move their embassies as well. Wide-spread international recognition of this plain fact will make it easier for Palestinian leaders in the post-Abbas era to abandon their attempts to erase the Jewish connection to the city.
Once the Palestinian leadership becomes willing to accept the Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem and Israel, the conditions will be created for an end to official PA incitement, and the creation of a culture of peace in its stead.
Seventy years after Israel’s establishment, we stand to witness a momentous event, which will mark the victory of historical truth over denial, and reality over rejectionism. The embassy move will pave the way not only for the further strengthening of the U.S.-Israel alliance, but for a brighter future for all who hold Jerusalem dear.
Member of Knesset Gilad Erdan is Israel’s Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs