At Midday on June 7th 1967 Moshe Dayan, Israel’s defence minister stood in front of the Wailing wall in the recently captured Old City of East Jerusalem and said “We reunited a divided Jerusalem, the bisected capital of Israel. We have returned to our holiest places, we have returned in order not to part from them ever again.” These words came three hours after Israel captured East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, putting an end to a shared Jerusalem that had existed since 1948.
In December of last year Trump decided to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This decision breaks with almost seventy years of foreign policy dating back to President Truman. On the 22nd of January Vice President Pence visited Israel, and speaking at the Knesset, assured Israel that the American embassy would be moved at the end of 2019. This marked an earlier than expected move and was met with unsurprising approval from the Knesset. A short protest by Arab MPs in the Knesset led to a scuffle and their removal, but this didn’t dent the confidence of a speaker standing downstream of decades of historical support.
Following Israel’s initial territorial expansion after the cessation of hostility in 1948 the United States had a tepid relationship with the nascent country. It did recognize the existence of Israel, but did not embroil itself in the controversial question of recognizing Jerusalem as its capital. Controversial because it was the global consensus that the solution to the territorial disputes would have to involve international oversight of one form or another.
This culminated in December 1949 with UN General Assembly Resolution 303 which stated, ‘Jerusalem should be placed under a permanent international regime’. This alarmed the government of Jerusalem at the time that saw Jerusalem as the lynch-pin of its territorial expansion claims; if its sovereignty was challenged in the most holy and important city it would weaken their entire claim. Prime minister David Ben-Gurion at the time reacted in what historian Avi Shlaim describes as ‘Churchillian defiance’ by moving Israel’s government buildings to Jerusalem. However despite such bold actions Israel didn’t have the support of the United States as it does today.
The United States throughout the 1940s and 1950s was cautious with its dealings with Israel. Part of the restraint was the fact that the United States, having inherited Britain’s colonial influence in the region, wished to maintain and strengthen its oil connections with the neighbouring Arab countries. Supporting Israel would only antagonize client states. This reached its peak in 1956 when Israel, France, and the UK implemented its secretly planned attack on Egypt and the US stepped in to rebuke and interdict the invasion.
The marked change towards the modern, unfailing support for Israel came when the conclusion of the 1967 war saw the defeat of Arab Nationalism. During the preceding decade Arab Nationalism under the leadership of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had begun to influence Arab countries against American interests. Nasser supported the nationalization of resources in various countries as well as funded rebellious groups against the colonial backed monarchies and rulers. The defeat of this movement greatly favoured American interests in the region and cemented the relationship that Trump is now magnifying to dangerous levels.
The defining philosophy behind Israel since its inception is the concept of an ‘Iron Wall’ put forward most famously by Vladamir Jabotinsky. The most salient quote of this tract states:
‘Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.’
The Iron Wall of military strength would obviously protect Israel, but its express purpose is to force Palestinians into an agreement when they ‘no longer [have] any hope of getting rid of us’. This has been generally the projection of Israeli domestic and foreign policy and in the present we are seeing the image coming to life. The Iron Wall is no longer a method to force an agreement, it’s a method to destroy the need for one. Trump’s recent remarks stating Jerusalem is ‘off the table’ effectively end the possibility of peace talks, and so long as occupation and settlement building continue there won’t be a Palestine to have to negotiate with in the future.
Since its inception Israel has faced what it has referred to as the ‘demographic problem’, simply put its the realization that some land is not conquerable because the population would not easily absorb and acquiesce to Israeli rule. This problem is evaporating slowly as settlements continue, Palestinians are turned into refugees, and the United States supports it. In Trump’s favourite image of immigration control—an impenetrable wall—he has also found a policy to support Israel, and every contribution the United States makes to fortifying this wall is at the expense of the Palestinians and international law.