Part I -- The Relevance of International Law
It is not easy to write anything new about President Trump's 6 December 2017 announcement that he -- and supposedly the U.S. as a nation -- was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. After all, plenty of very smart and attentive people have already commented on this decision. I particularly like those who pointed out that Trump's move replicated that of Arthur Balfour. As Balfour had assumed in 1917 that he could promise Palestine to the Zionists, so Trump seems to have assumed he could legitimize Jerusalem as Israeli territory. The connection seems to support the philosopher George Santayana's observation that those who know no history are bound to repeat it.
As was the case with Balfour, neither Trump nor the U.S. Congress (whose edict the president has so eagerly carried out) has any legal authority to proceed in this fashion. In the case of Trump and the Congress, what should get in their way is international law -- which, when represented in signed treaties, is incorporated into U.S. law. The Geneva Conventions are such a case. Part of these conventions (again, now made U.S. law) makes it illegal to conquer territory and then absorb it by moving your own citizens in while ethnically cleansing the original population. One can also cite the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court declaring apartheid policies a crime against humanity. This is not U.S. law but reflects international consensus. Israel is in violation of aspects of the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, as well as a host of United Nations resolutions.
Trump, along with the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, seems to be ignorant, or perhaps just callously unconcerned about international law -- even when it has become their law! Nowhere is it referenced in Trump's announcement. It is doubtful that he and those in Congress give it any thought at all. It is this shameless stupidity that concerns me. For, to the extent that we ignore international law, the world returns to the conditions that led to World Wars I and II, and of course, to the Holocaust.
Part II -- "Open Eyes and Fresh Thinking"
Trump: "When I came into office I promised to look at the world's challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking."
Comment: This state of mind cannot be completely achieved because we all are shaped by culture and personal past experiences. However, it can be approximated if one is (a) conscious of one's biases and assumptions and (b) knows enough relevant history to recognize what is indeed relatively "fresh" and original. I think it is safe to say that President Trump is nowhere near this level of consciousness. Rather than clear-headed and original, he behaves erratically and is very much in the grips of cultural prejudices and personal biases.
President Trump, though a particularly outrageous example of this impaired condition, is not the only American leader to mistake his own ignorance for clear-sightedness (George W. Bush comes to mind). It is perhaps because it is so difficult to really see the world's problems "with open eyes and fresh thinking" that wiser men and women than Mr. Trump have laid down international laws designed to prevent nation-states from taking actions that have, beyond doubt, proven to be disastrous.
Part III -- "Alternative Facts"
Trump: The announcement on Jerusalem "marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians." Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocating the U.S. embassy there will "advance the cause of peace." We know this to be so because putting off this step for the past 20 years has not advanced that cause.
Comment: Trump's reasoning here is, well, unreasonable, and historically mistaken. Previous presidents did not delay moving the U.S. embassy because they thought not doing so would help bring about Palestinian-Israeli peace. First, they promised to make this move for domestic political reasons during election campaigns -- a nod to the Zionist lobby's funding potential. Afterward, they held back because to actually take this step would only make things in the Middle East worse, and not only for the Palestinians and the Israelis. The United States has other Muslim rulers in the region who are its "allies." Trump's predecessors, or at least their advisors, knew that the men who ruled Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the like had populations with significant numbers of people who would be quite agitated over just the move Trump has now undertaken. These U.S. leaders feared, not without reason, that ceding Jerusalem to the Israelis would destabilize those allies and boost the threat of terrorism.
No doubt aided by an abiding ignorance, President Trump has replaced the facts which held back the hand of his predecessors with "alternative facts." For instance, he has replaced the facts that make up the history of Jerusalem as related to both Islam and Christianity, and the millennia-old emotions that go along with it, with the reality of an illegal 50-year occupation of the entire city by Israel. Having rendered truth in this fashion, the president concludes that his decision must be in the interest of both the U.S. and peace because it is "nothing more or less than the recognition of reality."
How simple is President Trump's world! Simple as only the ignorant can see it. No wonder Secretary of State Tillerson (who is not without his own short-sightedness) called President Trump a "moron."
Part IV -- Don't Misunderstand Me