That’s right. All the conventional, in-the-box thinking you’re hearing about how President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – which, de facto, it already is – and move the embassy there actually increases to prospects for an eventual negotiated settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Even supporters of the move who say, Well, it’s just the right thing to do, don’t understand that it also makes sense strategically.
As Trump the dealmaker knows, you don’t negotiate from a position of weakness. And you don’t, as Barack Obama was fond of doing, show that you are willing to cave to the incessant and unreasonable demands of your adversaries.
What Trump did Wednesday was demonstrate to the Arab world, a violent arena of ruthless Darwinian struggle, that he isn’t cowed by the usual tactic deployed by Israel’s enemies of threatening to unleash Jihads and Intifadas to get their way. The Arabs are now made to understand that there is a completely different character in the White House, one who is willing to make a deal with them, but not if they engage in activities that only draw the sides further apart.
In the short term, there may be some violence. And of course, the Arab states have issued the obligatory denunciations of the move, treated by the press as thundering declarations of consequence that could ruin Trump’s outreach to Saudi Arabia’s princes and other Arab leaders. But in reality, this is little more than pro forma commentary by states that know they need the United States to combat actual existential threats like Islamist extremism and Iran.
Whatever violence prompted by Hamas and the like will dissipate, because its instigators know it is of no use. This is not a president, like the previous one, who is instinctually sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and is prone to, for example, wetting his pants and invite the Russians into the Middle East when a punk like Syrian dictator Bashar Assad crosses his “red line” by launching chemical weapons. The current president responded to the same provocation by swiftly dispatching a few cruise missiles toward Damascus. No more chemical weapons.
Trump’s strategy with the Jerusalem recognition is actually subtler and more marked by long-range, strategic thought than the knee-jerk, surface analyses of the intellectuals who despise him as a fool. Trump’s approach is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s in 1981, when rather than caving to the illegal demands of striking air control tower workers, he fired them, even at risk of having a plane crash blamed on his action. The move was noticed in Moscow which, like the Arab world today, understood it had a new and tougher adversary in the West Wing and would not be able to roll him over with threats and demands.
When people get that their adversary won’t be indulging their bellicosity and folding when they bluff, they are more likely to make the kind of concessions that can lead to a deal. The Palestinians are on notice, if they are even serious about peace: They will either get something that is fair to both sides, or they will get nothing. And their leaders will understand that in the long term they will lose the support of their own people if they unleash violence that leads to little but contempt from America and retaliation from Israel.
Reagan’s motto was peace through strength. It works. Just ask the free people of Eastern Europe.