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A View From Paris

Trump's 'mad' gesture on Jerusalem has opened some doors

In a period dominated by local news, the eyes of French Jews still turn to Jerusalem

    News coverage of Donald Trump’s Jerusalem announcement is struggling for media space in France because of the passing of two great figures of French culture: Jean D’Ormesson, a literary giant, and Jonny Halliday, France’s Elvis Presley. 

    While both identified actively with the political right, their talents -- and their longevity – made them iconic representatives of the French nation. Success in the seduction game was part of their mystique. President Macron will speak at a government-sponsored tribute to Jonny on the Champs Elysees Saturday.

    Media coverage of Jerusalem has been largely predictable. Everyone knows how the Israel-Palestinian conflict must be settled. Jerusalem cannot be Israel’s capital because it belongs equally to the three Abrahamic faiths.

    To touch Jerusalem in any way is to put the Arab-Muslim world on fire and destroy all prospects for peace. Only a madman like Trump would make a unilateral declaration to the contrary. 

    Donald Trump is undoubtedly catering to his political base, but that’s surely normal. The liberal elite does not like Trump’s base, but Christians Evangelists and Jewish Republicans are entitled to vote in a democracy. Trump is appeasing Senators tempted to impeach him, but he is also respecting the rule of law by implementing the formal wish of successive Congresses frustrated till now by repeated Presidential waivers. 

    Trump’s statement shifts the goalposts, that’s for sure, but he has now declared support for a two-state solution and left open for negotiation the boundary of Israel’s capital and the capital of a future Palestine. But “the world” has condemned him -- by ignorance, pro-Palestinian bias, self-interest and a vague fear of violence.

    • History for some starts yesterday, or perhaps in 1967 when Israel “occupied” the old city. Or perhaps after 1917 when Jewish/Arab rivalries emerged after the British created Jordan and made Jerusalem the mandate capital of what remained of Palestine. Erdogan, who knows better, claimed Jerusalem was never a Jewish capital!

    • Trump’s announcement certainly favours Israel, but it also corrects for UNESCO’s repeated efforts to shrink the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. While important to other religions, Jerusalem is unique for Jews whose religious and cultural attachment never wavered through 2000 years of exile and whose claim to political sovereignty goes back 3000 years to King David. Israel, since 1967, has protected both Christian and Muslim sites and their custodians, while the Jordanians destroyed synagogues like the splendid Hurva, and predecessors built mosques on top of the Temple ruins. Islam’s most holy sites are Mecca and Medina where pilgrims by the million pray with their backs to Jerusalem.  “International” status is pure theory and would work no better than in the 1947 partition plan.

    • Claims that violence will ensue are in fact an incitement to violence. The “Arab Street” or rather the “Muslim Boulevard” may indeed be offended, but why must why is that?  Why must disagreements be expressed with violence?  And why does the West not condemn this violence—due to fear?  Ideology? paternalism?  

    • The United States will not forfeit its place as peace process moderator because  Israel will listen to no-one else.  The West shares the Sunnis Arab concerns about Iran’s expansionism and recognises that Israel can help. Europe and France are less dependent on oil and more concerned about Islamic terrorism, now the top political issue for voters in France. 

    • Ultimately, the conflict is about one thing:  the permanent presence of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East where Muslims dominated for centuries and Jews lived as second class “dhimmis”. What’s needed is another Sadat-like initiative – say from the young crown prince of Saudi Arabia –but will he dare, and can he survive?

    Despite all the hand-wringing and cynical jibes in the media at Trump and Netanyahu, official reactions in France and Riyad have lacked venom and a few French commentators have become neutral or even pro-Israel as old clichés lose their punch.

    Israel still sits on a “strapontin” -- the end-seat at the theatre that folds up under you the moment you stand.  But maybe another 70 years will be enough to earn the Jews a normal seat on the world stage.

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