How Moving the US Embassy to West Jerusalem, While Denying Israel’s Sovereignty Over East Jerusalem, Could Inject New Life Into the Peace Process
If President Trump fulfills his campaign promise to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, there will be major regional and international repercussions.
The Trump administration is currently evaluating the implications of such a move, and no final decision has been made. Given the sensitivity and far-reaching consequences, if Trump decides to relocate the embassy, it is critical that he concurrently engage in a balancing act to prevent the potentially disastrous fallout.
Trump should use the occasion of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington on February 15th to make it clear that relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem will have a price tag: a) Israel must commit to the two-state solution; b) the US will recognize that east Jerusalem will be the capital of the future state of Palestine; c) the expansion of the settlements cannot continue unabated; and d) Israel must not implement the new law that retroactively legalizes scores of illegal settlements built on private Palestinian land.
Relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem unconditionally would be a de facto recognition of Jerusalem, east and west, as the capital of Israel. Here is what would happen if the Trump administration makes such a move.
First, the Arab states led by Jordan, which is the custodian of the holy Muslim shrines, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, will view such a move as a flagrant assault on Islam. Under no circumstances will the Arab states allow Israel to have sovereignty over Haram Al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), with the exception of the Western Wall (a part of the outer wall of the Second Temple).
Second, such a move would, for all intents and purposes, put an end to the prospect of peace based on a two-state solution. Indeed, for the Palestinians, the establishment of an independent state with its capital in east Jerusalem is non-negotiable. No one should dismiss the ferocious violence that will likely occur if the Palestinians are denied East Jerusalem as their capital.
Third, the United States’ standing and credibility in the Middle East, which has eroded since the Iraq War, would suffer another major setback. The US must reassert its leadership position in the region, not simply provide more openings for Russia, which is eager to capitalize on US setbacks.
Fourth, the embassy move could have an extremely adverse effect on Israel’s future security — because it will make it harder for the Jewish state to make peace with its Arab neighbors. While the Trump move might appear to help Israel, it will actually undermine Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan, and jeopardize the peace treaties with both countries.
Fifth, the move would further alienate the European community. For the EU, relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem would be another, if not the final, nail in the coffin of a two-state solution, which would instigate increasing regional violence from which Europe will continue to suffer.
Should President Trump still decide to relocate the American embassy, he could turn this into a positive by announcing that the US will build the new embassy in the western part of the city. Trump should then reemphasize the US’ traditional support for the two-state solution, and the establishment of east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The US must make it clear that relocating the American embassy to west Jerusalem does not constitute recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over east Jerusalem.
To assure the Palestinians of its intention, the US could purchase land or a building in east Jerusalem for future use for the American embassy in Palestine.
There is no doubt that the Netanyahu government would vehemently object to such a move, but due to the fact that US military and political support is indispensable for Israel, no Israeli government can ignore the US’ position. Indeed, if Trump is concerned (as I believe he is) about Israel’s national security and its future well-being, the only way to safeguard that is by insisting that the two-state solution remains a viable option.
President Trump can keep his promise to relocate the American embassy, and, at the same time, inject new life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.