Jihadists, the tip of the sharia-supremacist spear, rationalize mass murder by denying the humanity of their enemies: Their doctrine teaches that non-Muslims are less than fully human and that their existence while refusing to accept Allah’s law is offensive. In the same way, Islamists, the broader population of sharia supremacists, rationalize the destruction of their perceived enemies, Israel in particular, by denying the reality of their legitimate existence.
This is what Edward Said referred to as the “psychological barrier.” It is what President Trump is trying to break by doing what he promised as a candidate to do: recognize the blunt reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
The objective was to preserve Said’s “psychological barrier.” This is the mindset that prevents Muslims from accepting Israel’s right to exist. Even if relations are frosty, people who open lines of communication cross a threshold. They may never agree, but implicitly they concede that the other side has human dignity, is worth hearing out, and may even be guided by everyday concerns rooted more in security than hostility. Even worse from the Islamist perspective, if the two sides interrelate often enough, they may find areas of agreement — common ground that suggests compromise is preferable to bloodshed. Leave them together long enough and they might become cordial — even, Allah forbid, friendly.
Islamists thus labor to fortify the psychological barrier against peaceful coexistence by denying existence itself. Key to this is depicting Israel as not a normal country — an international outlaw that “occupies” but does not legitimately exist, without settled borders, without domestic tranquility, unable to conduct trade and commerce, and bereft of the sovereign authority even to name its own capital city.
When the reality of Israel is rejected, it tacitly endorses the foundational Palestinian conceit that Israel must and will be annihilated.
The significance of the president’s move is not principally the honoring of a campaign commitment, although that is refreshing. It is not even the alignment of American action with stated American policy, which is more than 20 years overdue, notwithstanding the lip service of presidents from both parties up to and including Barack Obama. The significance lies in the recognition that there is not even a chance for peace until there is acceptance, however grudging, of Israel’s existence — a normal country that functions as such.
When this reality is rejected, not just by Islamists but by such great nations as the United Kingdom, it tacitly endorses the foundational Palestinian conceit that Israel must and will be annihilated. Annihilation, of course, can come in many forms, each making use of the others: international war; a terrorist intifada; a political process that erodes the Jewish character of Israel under the guise of democratic reform; diplomatic sleight of hand that undermines Israel’s rights of self-defense, self-governance, and commerce under the guise of international law. But we should remain mindful that every item on this annihilation menu, and all of them combined, spring from the premise that Israel is an interloping imposter, not a sovereign state.
We Americans have a ruinous propensity to project our principles onto those who reject them. We cannot even conceive of totally destroying our enemies. We are the nation of the Marshall Plan and the Islamic-democracy project; of the wayward “you break it, you own it” philosophy, which holds that if we have to invade your backward, barbaric country because you’ve threatened us, we’re somehow obliged to stay for as long as it takes and spend whatever it costs to get you up and running. We assume that because we think that way, everybody must think that way.
If you treat terrorists like they’re normal, they make terrorism a norm. And if you treat Israel like it’s not a real country with real sovereign rights, Islamists conclude that they can attack Israel with abandon.
Consequently, we figure that the Palestinians will eventually come around. “Yeah, okay, so they spout a lot of that ‘Palestine from the river to the sea’ twaddle, fire off crude missiles, pay the families of suicide bombers, and formally incorporate into their governing authority a jihadist organization unabashedly pledged to Israel’s extirpation. But they can’t be serious, right?” If we just treat the Palestinians as if they’re normal, they’ll become normal; and if that means treating Israel like it’s abnormal, Israel will have to understand — after all, it’s for their own good.
Well, no. If you treat terrorists like they’re normal, they make terrorism a norm. If you reward their savagery with concessions, they go savage to get concessions. And if you treat Israel like it’s not a real country with real sovereign rights, Islamists conclude that they can attack Israel with abandon, on every platform from Gaza to Turtle Bay, until Israel is no more.
This does not stop until we are credibly firm that Israel’s existence as a legitimate, regularly functioning, sovereign nation is nonnegotiable — meaning, there is no point in having negotiations absent acceptance of that fact by the Palestinians, their Islamist allies, and their useful-idiot tools in Western chancelleries. President Trump’s formal recognition of the reality that Israel gets to choose its own capital, just like every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe does, will not by itself break the psychological barrier. But it’s a start, which is more than you can say for most diplomacy in this area for the last quarter-century.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.