Why Trump must keep his promise to move US embassy to Jerusalem during his visit to Israel next week
President Trump boldly promised to move the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during his presidential campaign, a move that has been promised and abandoned many times before. Swamp-dwellers in Foggy Bottom think they know that such a move is impossible because the Arab street would explode with protest, and it would torpedo any hope of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the elusive Holy Grail of American diplomacy.
U.S. Embassy, Tel Aviv. Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday that while President Donald Trump still hasn't made a decision on whether or not he will move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an important part of his deliberations is how such a move would impact the Trump administration's efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Tillerson explained that "the president, I think rightly, has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all interested parties in the region, and understanding, in the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have."
This is the first time that a senior figure in the Trump administration has admitted publicly that the embassy move, a promise Trump made during the election campaign, is being weighed as part of the larger effort to reach a peace agreement. Tillerson added further that Trump was "being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process." In recent weeks, press reports in Israel indicated that the Trump administration was not planning to move the embassy.
We have heard this story many times before. But it holds less and less water than ever before. Eugene Kontorovich explains why in a must-read article in the Wall Street Journal:
While the Palestinian issue was once at the forefront of Arab politics, today Israel's neighbors are preoccupied with a nuclear Iran and radical Islamic groups. For the Sunni Arab states, the Trump administration's harder line against Iran is far more important than Jerusalem. To be sure, a decision to move the embassy could serve as a pretext for attacks by groups like al Qaeda. But they are already fully motivated against the U.S.
Another oft-heard admonition is that America would be going out on a limb if it "unilaterally" recognized Jerusalem when no other country did. An extraordinary recent development has rendered that warning moot. Last month Russia suddenly announced that it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Note what happened next: No explosions of anger at the Arab world. No end to Russia's diplomatic role in the Middle East. No terror attacks against Russian targets. Moscow's dramatic Jerusalem reversal has largely been ignored by the foreign-policy establishment because it disproves their predictions of mayhem.
To be sure, Russia limited its recognition to "western Jerusalem." Even so, it shifted the parameters of the discussion. Recognizing west Jerusalem as Israeli is now the position of a staunchly pro-Palestinian power. To maintain the distinctive U.S. role in Middle East diplomacy – and to do something historic – Mr. Trump must go further. Does the U.S. want to wind up with a less pro-Israel position than Vladimir Putin's?
Indeed, the bargaining leverage has utterly changed to the detriment of the Palestinians, and the author of The Art of the Deal knows how to take advantage of that:
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would also improve the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It would end the perverse dynamic that has prevented such negotiations from succeeding: Every time the Palestinians say "no" to an offer, the international community demands a better deal on their behalf. No wonder no resolution has been reached. Only last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that new negotiations "start" with the generous offer made by Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. Relocating the embassy would demonstrate to the Palestinian Authority that rejectionism has costs.
If Mr. Trump nonetheless signs the waiver, he could do two things to maintain his credibility in the peace process. First, formally recognize Jerusalem – the whole city – as the capital of Israel, and reflect that status in official documents. Second, make clear that unless the Palestinians get serious about peace within six months, his first waiver will be his last. He should set concrete benchmarks for the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment to negotiations. These would include ending their campaign against Israel in international organizations and cutting off payments to terrorists and their relatives.
Do it, Mr. President!