Hot on the heels of land designation changes in the United States, the American government takes things global by announcing the intent to follow through with a law from 1995 regarding Jerusalem.
Israel and Palestine’s turbulent history is too long to cover in this post. It’s up to you how deep you want to dig, but I will say that throughout the process, the United States has played a key role in facilitating negotiations. In those negotiations, the status and control of Jerusalem (an important religious city in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) has been a central component. Since Jerusalem is so important to these three major world religions, a lot is at stake, and interest in the outcome extends well beyond the borders of the city and region in question.
In an effort to better understand, I’d like to draw a few similarities and contrasts to what just happened in the state of Utah. Executive power has been utilized at various times to designate federal land as national monuments within the state. Residents of Utah have argued over whether the president should hold such power, if the affected acreage makes sense, and what negative or positive impacts the decisions have on economies and livelihoods. More importantly, Native Americans have long brought to light the injustices suffered by their people, sacred sites at risk, and overall objection to being left out of the conversation.
Suppose we increase the scale of the Utah land issue and broaden it to include all land designated and discussed since the Antiquities Act in 1906 (that’s more than 150 designated National Monuments). Without a doubt, every single one of those has had both supporters and opponents, and it’s safe to say that many people have been affected, both negatively and positively, by each of these designations.
However, while the impact of these designations is real to many, the scale doesn’t even come close to the stakes tied to Jerusalem, perhaps the most controversial “antiquity” in the world.
Disagreement over land ownership in Jerusalem has been going on for centuries. The magnitude of time may blur the impact, but that means centuries of unrest and suffering. That translates into years of pent up feelings. That means groups surfacing to fight for their side of the issue, with “winners” and “losers.” By the time the United States became involved in the discussion, opposing sides weren’t simply tossing insults and arguments; they were using bombs and grenades. People weren’t just left feeling upset; people died.
The United States has attempted to stay neutral while also supporting Israel. Back in 1995 President Clinton and congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, taking a stand on the issue and announcing that the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since then, every six months presidents have signed a “waiver” (built into the Act) postponing the move of the embassy. President Trump signed the waiver in June of this year and again this month. He is doing what other presidents have done before. He has made a statement that we support Israel and their claim on Jerusalem, and has signed the waiver, keeping things as they are.
So why is this different? What has President Trump done differently? Is it his style? When he made the announcement earlier this year of his intentions to follow through with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, it drew warnings from other world leaders that such action would undo decades of work. Officials advised alternatives and asked the United States to consider the ripple effects.
The United States is still one of the most powerful countries in the world. But, with that power comes responsibility. For the most part, we have done our best in the leadership role to keep peace between Israel and Palestine, in the hopes of bringing the two sides to a lasting, permanent agreement. It’s hard to even fathom how much of our own resources we’ve poured into the region in an attempt to establish peace.
And so, like it or not, the ripples begin.
Unrest has broken out in the region, including clashes between citizens and police. US military standby to reinforce the protection of embassies around the world as thousands of protesters gather, creating an air of fear and uncertainty for some Americans living abroad. Our family is one of those still living overseas.
While I can appreciate the value of someone following through on his/her word, there are times when receiving more information increases the responsibility to do the right thing, even if that means modifying previous plans or actively seeking alternatives. Like changing the monuments in Utah, the announcement on Jerusalem is largely symbolic. One was within the confines of our own nation, while the other strikes at the heart of the whole world and at centuries of conflict.
I wonder if we’re being responsible? This question is not just for the current administration, but for all of us. Can we stretch ourselves and relate to the complexity and layers of emotions wrapped up in this issue? It might not always be politically expedient, but our responsibility as leaders dictates that we must constantly seek a higher path.