There goes the neighborhood. Joining in the celebration of Israel's 70th birthday this spring, the American State Department will be there as it was at the creation of the Jewish state. However unwillingly.
Back then, the president was Harry S. Truman, and he too took the boldest of steps, recognizing the state of Israel within minutes after it was born. Or rather reborn, for even as empires have come and gone, the dream of re-establishing the ancient Jewish commonwealth there has persisted.
Now, as the striped-pants brigade at State may have done what it could to keep this country's foreign policy neutral on the side of continued conflict, it has to deal with another president who has a mind and stubborn will of his own. So it went back then and so it goes now. This current president says he defied "incredible" pressure to break a long string of presidential promises and keep this country's embassy in Tel Aviv. As opposed to letting the Israelis choose their own capital by moving the embassy to Jerusalem. All of which Alert Reader will doubtless find all too credible.
"You know," says President Donald J. Trump, "every president campaigned on, 'We're going to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,' everybody, for many presidents, you've been reading it, and then they never pulled it off, and I now know why. I was hit by more countries and more pressure and more people calling, begging me, 'Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it.' I said, 'We have to do it, it's the right thing to do.' " So he did it.
"I would like to congratulate Donald Trump, the President of the US@POTUS," says a member of Israel's cabinet of the decision to transfer the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on Israel's 70th Independence Day, "There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!"
But the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its top official, when it comes to negotiating a peace that always bears a marked resemblance to war, isn't having any of this. He's dismissed the American offer to mediate peace because of this country's long promised but somehow always delayed decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. 'Tis an oft-told story, and its theme never seems to change.
Rather than accept half a loaf, then a quarter of a loaf, and by now an ever smaller slice, Arab nationalists wind up with just a sliver of the overly Promised Land. And the Arabs seem bent on following the same failed negotiating strategy that's become less a strategy than a sure formula for failure. The Palestinians have proved to be their own worst enemy so many times by now that it's hard to keep up with their self-defeats. And more are sure to come as they continue to mistake friend for foe, this time denouncing the United States as a dishonest broker.
Those who follow events in the Mideast, a most depressing obsession, will have heard this same old line before. Many a sad time.
The decision of the U.S. administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, pronounced Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the PLO, "provoke(s) the feelings of the Palestinian people, as well as of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians around the globe." Well, maybe not all of them.
Nothing seems to change except the date on the calendar. You'd think that by now the PLO and its friends and allies would have been able to come up with a more original line. But they haven't. And so the Mideast stays stuck in the same old groove that the PLO and company have deepened and deepened till it resembles nothing so much as a grave for the hopes and dreams of a past civilization.
The tragedy of Arab Palestinians seems to be a continuing pageant that keeps raising the most basic existential questions. Beginning with whether there is a distinct Palestinian nation rather than just Arabs who have adopted the ethnic identity as a means, not an end, of political struggle.
The plan is for the new American embassy to have only a skeletal staff at first, much as the Israeli consulate in Tel Aviv does now. But this is a dream that's as old as King David's vision of the Holy Ark ensconced in Jerusalem -- a sight that set him dancing before the Lord -- even though his wife thought it an unseemly way for a king to behave. Yet the king of kings seemed to voice no objection to lesser royalty's rejoicing before the Lord and by biblical accounts, He smiled at the sight, and prospered those who restored the ancient Temple.
Stay tuned for more news out of the Mideast -- good and bad -- for the Mideast remains a part of the world where past and future mix and match. To what end only time's unfailing chronicle can prove a sure guide.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.