In light of President Trump’s historic announcement on the 6th of December, students will need some help to unpack its meaning and significance. Below are some questions that my students who are studying on a gap year program in Israel asked me yesterday. I have included “answers” which are summaries of either responses I gave, or opinions offered by my students.
1. Does it matter what the International Community recognize as being Israel’s capital?
a) Yes it is very important to respect International Law especially for diplomatic and trade reasons.
b) No, not at all. Israel has reestablished a status quo for itself holding Jerusalem as its capital city and should continue to adhere to it.
c) I am not sure. Even now the international community seems to be split on the best course of action.
2. Is President Trump’s declaration really so significant?
a) Yes, it recognizes Israel’s sovereign right to choose its own capital city and the center of its seat of government.
b) Yes because it has effectively reversed over 50 years of official United States policy.
c) Not really as it won’t actually have any practical impact for several years and even then the differences between now and then are marginal.
d) Only time will tell. He didn’t make any reference to how Jerusalem would fit into any future Palestinian state nor did he mention the borders of that future state.
3. Why is he making this statement now?
a) In his election campaign, President Trump committed to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. He is now making good on that promise. He has been in office about a year and now is a good time to start making those moves.
b) President Trump and his confidants are under investigation for a number of offenses related to their connections to Russia and their conduct during previous investigations. What an awesome way to distract the press and the public away from those investigations.
c) Israel has been targeting Iranian military activity in Syria. It is a way of showing solidarity with Israel against Islamic extremism and the nations that fund it.
4. It seems Jared Kushner had a big role in this. Will there be anti-Semitism as a result?
a) There is tons of anti-Semitism anyway, so what difference does it make?
b) It is not clear how influential Kushner really was. This election promise and the current political climate were not things he had influence over anyway.
c) Very possibly. The stereotype of Jewish interests pulling the government strings is well-established and this might reinforce that. Whether it will turn into something tangible is debatable.
d) He is now a member of the Executive branch doing his job, why would that make people more or less anti-Semitic?
5. What about the two state solution?
a) What about it? President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to the idea and didn’t commit to anything about Jerusalem beyond his recognition of it as being the capitol.
b) The Palestinian Authority have declared that the US is no longer a viable mediator in this conflict. Abbas has said they will seek help from other countries and international bodies.
c) It isn’t going to happen any time soon anyway so what difference will this really make?
It is clear from the “answers” included above that in my class there were a wide range of opinions. It is very important that the discussion is open and respectful and that everybody feels comfortable contributing. Each time a student asked a question, before answering it, I made sure that everybody understood the question and therefore felt included. As well as offering my perspective I made sure to offer students the opportunity to answer each other as well, thereby giving them a greater sense of investment in the conversation. Finally it was important to me to stress to the students that there are so many “what ifs” and unknowns about this subject. Nobody really knows what the impact of this new policy will be or what changes it will or won’t bring in the future.