In the weeks leading up to the relocation of the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, supporters of the Trump administration argued that his decision exemplifies "America First" foreign policy, and that previous administrations - going back to the time of Harry Truman - subordinated U.S. interests for the sake of internationalism, by not recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
While as the executive director of a Christian peacemaking organization, Churches for Middle East Peace, I am no proponent of an America First foreign policy, this argument is deeply flawed.
Recognizing Jerusalem as the unilateral capital of Israel, while ignoring the presence and aspirations of more than 300,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, the ties of more than two and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank, and the millions of diaspora Palestinians around the world, is not in America’s national interest.
An "America First" foreign policy in the Middle East must surely rely on the close cooperation of our regional allies. Our allies in the region not only include Israel, but nations that deeply sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians and their struggle for self-determination. An unabashedly unilateral approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict compromises our relations with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the GCC nations and Turkey.
I assert that it is never in the best interests of the United States to pursue policies that will exacerbate tensions between Israel and the Islamic world.
Seventy years of U.S. foreign policy have painstakingly attempted to maintain this delicate coalition, and to characterize this policy as subordinating American interests to internationalism, compromise, and multilateralism vastly misjudges the complexities of conducting foreign policy in this region.
As a Christian peace advocate, I fervently hope that the U.S. will broaden its foreign policy objectives beyond pure self-interest and take into account the wellbeing of all peoples around the globe.
But even the most self-interested of foreign policy makers can clearly see how the decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will prove detrimental to U.S. interests.
William Rogers, Secretary of State during the Nixon administration - whose foreign policy was the epitome of "America First" realpolitik - wrote in 1969: "Our policy is and will continue to be a balanced one. We have friendly ties with both Arabs and Israelis.Therefore, our policy is to encourage the Arabs to accept a permanent peace based on a binding agreement and to urge the Israelis to withdraw from occupied territory when their territorial integrity is assured as envisaged by the Security Council Resolution."
Withdrawing from occupied territory, as envisioned by the UN Security Council, includes East Jerusalem. Nixon’s policy of U.S. support for a peace based on Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories came from an administration that can hardly be characterized as "subservient to internationalism."
This is not to say that the Jewish residents of Jerusalem and Israel do not have unique ties to the city, historically, religiously, and politically. I in no way oppose Israeli aspirations to see West Jerusalem serve as their capital.
But when the United States recognizes the claims of Israel without any regard for the claims of the Palestinians, the message we send as a nation is that we see no political profit in a negotiated resolution to this conflict. That is a very dangerous message to send in the current political climate of the Middle East.
Writing-off such warnings as the baseless hand wringing of an "Arabophile" State Department, as many of this administration’s defenders have, completely ignores the connection between U.S. foreign policy, anti-American sentiment, and its ultimate consequence - radicalization.
Lives do indeed hang in the balance with this decision: Palestinian lives, Israeli lives - and yes - even American lives.
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is the Executive Director at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), a coalition of 27 Church denominations working to encourage U.S. policies promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. She is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church.
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