Bethlehem is on people's minds a lot these days. But in Washington, the reason isn't Christmas -- it's politics. Jesus's birthplace is just one of the holy sites that happens to be in Israel's so-called West Bank, where the Trump administration made a splash last month by legitimizing the country's settlements. Naturally, Democrats let Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have it, firing off an angry letter for the move. But it may be the Kansan who gets the last word.
It was a decision that some experts are calling Trump's most important Israeli policy. Caroline Glick, a columnist at Israel Hayom, joined me on "Washington Watch" in November, when the news came down that the president was refusing to call the West Bank settlements "inconsistent with international law." "In many ways," Caroline said, "it's actually more significant than moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights." Why? "Because the Jerusalem Embassy Act was law since 1996--and every presidential administration since then had to justify not moving the embassy. But that was official American policy. As for the Golan Heights, that was very significant. Don't get me wrong... But it wasn't really being disputed by the United States in recent years."
The legal status of Israeli communities in the West Bank, on the other hand, "has really been the core of the defamation campaign against Israel since the Carter administration since the 1970s. And it's the leading reason or justification that the E.U. and the U.N. and others use to discriminate against Israel and Israeli Jews in the name of the rule of law or international law, even though there's no basis in international law for the claim that Israeli communities in these areas are illegal."
Democrats dared to disagree, complaining to Pompeo that the announcement "contradicts decades of bipartisan U.S. policy" and also violates the Geneva Convention. Pompeo wasted no time obliterating the Left's arguments, writing back to the 107 liberals that, "While I appreciate your interest in this important issue, I couldn't disagree more with those two foolish positions," Pompeo said bluntly.
For starters, he pointed out, the State Department didn't reverse any policy -- it reversed a legal determination by Secretary John Kerry "made during the waning days of the Obama administration." Pompeo's predecessor made the argument that the settlements weren't legitimate "in a failed attempt to justify the Obama administration's betrayal of Israel [at the U.N.]..." That "determination," Pompeo reminded them, received "bipartisan condemnation, including from leading Democrats in both chambers of Congress." What Kerry did, he argued, was inject America into an unnecessary conflict that has "saddled the Trump administration with a significant handicap in advancing the cause of peace."
"The Trump administration is committed to working tirelessly to advance the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We approach the issue pragmatically and diplomatically, but we eschew the erroneous positions of international law that have gained favor in the past decades. The Obama-Kerry departure from America's historic support of Israel has done nothing to make peace more attainable. The State Department's recent determination that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se illegal is an important step in the peace process, and we are confident that it creates the right platform for further progress."
At the end of the day, President Trump is only righting an Obama wrong. But the Democrats don't care about the practical policy implications of his decision. They only care about opposing this administration and anything it does. "What you see among Democrats is something called 'negative effective partnership,' which means that if the other party is in favor of something, I am -- without thinking about it -- automatically against it," said Israeli professor Jonathan Rynhold. "[S]ince they hate Trump, anything that has to do with him goes out the window."
Fortunately for Americans, the president will continue to do what's right for our country -- and our allies -- regardless of the flak he takes. In this case, that means standing by Israel and the Jewish people in hopes that one day, it will pave the way for real and lasting peace.