Analysis

With Jerusalem Recognition, Trump Gives Netanyahu a Great Tool to Distract the Masses

And if the doomsday predictions prove false, Bibi can say look, Jerusalem was recognized as the capital and the sky didn’t fall. All thanks to whom?

Trump and Netanyahu in Israel, May 2017
Amos Ben Gershom

After the U.S. president’s resolute words, the jabs at his predecessors, the hand gestures and the exaggerated tan, we were left with an announcement that’s the first course in a meal the White House will be serving to its two guests.

Clearly the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem – West Jerusalem according to the site map drafted by U.S. President Donald Trump – as Israel’s capital isn’t the epilogue but the beginning. It’s a wonderful gift to Israel for its 70th anniversary, and sure enough the right wing rejoiced.

But Israel may be required to pay for this Hanukkah gift with the cold hard cash of gestures and concessions to the Palestinians before the negotiations are jump-started again – assuming there are negotiations and what we saw Wednesday wasn’t the burial of the chance to renew negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chalked up a real achievement Wednesday, in fact the first one since Trump entered office almost a year ago. With considerable justification, the prime minister will be able to attribute Trump’s dramatic declaration to his personal relations with the U.S. president.

“If it weren’t for me, this wouldn’t have happened,” Netanyahu’s line will be. He will try to insert into public opinion that offloading him over “cigars” and replacing him with anyone else will damage Israel strategically.

The timing of Trump’s announcement was good for Netanyahu, not only for reasons of state. It helps him distract attention, at least for the near future, from the corruption investigations against him. It also distracts from the corruption investigation into his right-hand man David Bitan, the coalition chairman, and from the public’s growing preoccupation with the suspected corruption at the top of Likud.

Not only is the focus now diverted, it’s moving to the prime minister’s comfort zone in the security-diplomatic arena. If the Palestinians set the area on fire, if the Turkish president carries out his threat to cut off relations with Israel, if all hell breaks loose in the neighborhood and the “gates of hell open,” as Hamas has warned, Netanyahu will hold this all up as crushing proof that the Arabs don’t want peace.

Should any confrontation develop, the United States will be at his and Israel’s side; after all, the president said his move is part of an effort to advance peace in the region. Never mind that the State Department warning to U.S. diplomats to avoid the West Bank made this assertion look like a bad joke.

But if the doomsday predictions prove false and the dust soon settles, Netanyahu can say look, Jerusalem was recognized as the capital and the sky didn’t fall or the earth open up. That’s all thanks to whom? To whose policy? To whose actions? The answer of course is clear.