WASHINGTON — In foreign policy, conventional wisdom has an almost biblical force. Gospel-like, practitioners intone the commandments: Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Terrorism and religion are unrelated. And, holy of holies, do not appear to prejudge the outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Clearly, the gospels are not for Donald Trump, who last week declared that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of the State of Israel, and that the United States will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Predictably, the president was denounced by the usual complement of opinion leaders, journalists and political opponents. And since Donald Trump is so often wrong, it is tempting to succumb to the opprobrium of polite society and agree he was probably wrong again. Except he wasn’t.
Starting with the purely factual, Jerusalem has the virtue of actually being the capital of Israel. It is the seat of the Israeli prime minister, its parliament, its Supreme Court and its president.
Notwithstanding the objections of other countries, it is established practice for sovereign nations to choose their own capitals.
Dissenting savants will insist that Jerusalem is disputed territory, and therefore must be off limits to the Jews when it comes to capital-choosing.
But for most polite society — excluding Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorists — the question of Jerusalem relates to its Old City and Eastern portions.
Not to all of Jerusalem. And Donald Trump made clear that the United States does not intend to place its embassy on disputed land or prejudge the outcome of a successful negotiation between Israel and Palestinian representatives.
Opponents will add that acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will enrage the Arab world. Perhaps that’s true — though most Arab states have been surprisingly perfunctory in their condemnations — but it’s not a reason for the United States to avoid acknowledging reality. It should certainly be a factor. But it should not be decisive.
But what about the so-called “Arab street?” And the Palestinians? Yes, they are cross. Hamas and others promptly declared Days of Rage to do what they do on most days that end in “y”, terrorize civilians and destroy property.
Threats of violence are unacceptable, and should not be recognized with sage nods and murmurs about what-we-should-expect. Moving a building is not a pretext for violence, and all who accept the notion that terrorism has a justification are part of the problem.
Finally, there is the peace process. Successive secretaries of state have winded themselves in their breathless pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize, all to no avail.
But the truth is that the Israelis have had their capital in Jerusalem for almost 70 years, and Washington has maintained an embassy outside Jerusalem for the same time period, and none of that has led to a resolution between the Arabs and the Jews.
There is no reason to believe that acknowledging reality will prejudice that particularly hopeless cause. Perhaps it will have the opposite effect.
Some suggest that behind the Trump administration’s thinking on Jerusalem is the notion that upending the status quo, shaking the parties out of their worn-down shibboleths and going back to the table on the basis of reality could be a path forward.
Maybe. Certainly, the status quo has resulted in little more than dazzling prosperity for Israel and growing misery for Palestinians trapped under an unelected gaggle of octogenarian kleptocrats and more youthful terrorists.
Ultimately, it will be the Israelis and the Palestinians who decide the future for themselves. And it will not be the location of the United States embassy that will shape the fate of the region.
Rather it will be the birth of a partnership between the two sides in the belief that all will be better off at peace.