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May 15, 2017 4:31 pm

The Foolish Embassy Expectation Game

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin / JNS.org

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The US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Photo: Krokodyl via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – When President Donald Trump heads to the Middle East next week, the world will be primarily watching closely to see if he makes any of his trademark gaffes that set off a cultural land mine in Saudi Arabia or Israel. But the more important question is whether he will use the trip to actually make policy.

The expectation is that at some point during his visit, Trump will announce the convening of a new Middle East summit. Trump appears to believe in the “outside-in” approach to peace talks, in which Arab states like Saudi Arabia would play a role in trying to encourage and even muscle the Palestinians into negotiating in good faith with Israel at a peace conference. But whether or not that dubious plan is put into action, Trump’s presence in Jerusalem is also being scrutinized for any hint that the US is prepared to acknowledge his stay at the King David Hotel will be time spent in Israel’s capital.

Though Trump repeatedly pledged during the 2016 campaign he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s still possible he could do it, perhaps even when he’s there only a day before Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day — which this year marks the 50th anniversary of the city’s reunification during the Six-Day War. But few in the know think this is going to happen.

In recent weeks, Trump has been listening to his more mainstream advisers such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. This has led him to take a more realistic attitude toward NATO, Russia and the conflict in Syria. It’s also likely to mean he will heed their warnings that an embassy move would set off riots in the Muslim world rivaling those occurring in reaction to a Danish newspaper publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. That’s a price that not even a Trump may be willing to pay to keep a promise.

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If so, then those pro-Israel activists who pushed hard to pin down Trump on the embassy issue last year will probably write it off as just a noble effort that failed. But by putting the question of Jerusalem’s status back on the national agenda and then failing, they will have made a mistake that could set back Israel’s cause and boost efforts to re-partition the capital.

The effort to move the embassy was once a mainstream Jewish obsession and resulted in numerous Democratic and Republican party platform pledges about recognizing the reality of a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But after the promise was repeatedly broken, the pro-Israel community got the hint and stopped asking.

Nor was it something the Israeli government was demanding. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be delighted if Trump were to do as he promised, but the location of the US embassy ranks low on the list of the Israeli leader’s priorities. Netanyahu is far more interested in getting Trump to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to stop inciting and paying for terrorism, and to understand its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has neither the will nor the ability to ever make peace. Keeping Trump focused on the Iranian threat is also more important to Netanyahu than where the US ambassador spends his workday.

But, like it or not, raising the stakes on the embassy could make Trump’s unremarkable decision to emulate his predecessors look like a defeat for Israel. If the president appears in Jerusalem in the very week when its reunification is being celebrated without acknowledging he rejects the longstanding legal fiction that the city is not Israeli territory, it will be perceived as a setback that might ensure the embassy is never moved.

This will be more than just bad PR for Israel. The world’s refusal to accept that even the parts of the city that were inside the 1967 lines make up Israel’s capital is more than an annoyance. It lends undeserved credence to the Palestinian propaganda campaign to deny the city’s Jewish heritage. It’s also an essential element of a dogma impelling the Palestinians to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. That’s why Israel’s friends are correct to want the US to make a statement that the days of ignoring Palestinian intransigence and hatred are over.

But sometimes tactics are as important as strategy. Right now, what friends of Israel need the most is for Trump to understand the truth about Abbas and his Hamas rivals’ refusal to make peace. Yet by raising expectations about the embassy that are bound to be disappointed, they may hand Israel’s foes an unearned and tragically important victory.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • lrgelman

    Hungarian Jews all. The ever more meaningless motto “Never Again ” cannot be heard by those slain by Islamic barbarians. For them and their families its a recurrence of the Holocaust. When does cowardice in the face of the enemy result in anything other than disaster? Refusing to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem is cowardice. It emboldens the anti-Semitic both in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Israel is a necessary sanctuary for Jews because the rest of the world, habitually, kills Jews for the “crime” of being Jews. Why do we seek approval and acceptance from those who murdered our parents and children, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, our teachers, our neighbors and our ancestors. So that Netanyahu can have brunch with the sons and daughters of murderers? The United States betrayed the peoples of South Vietnam and Cuba, abandoned the Tutsis to their fate and fostered the slaughter of Middle Eastern Christians. Did the United States or her allies intentionally liberate a single concentration camp? How many Jew laden ships were turned away from U.S. shores? Did not the British block immigration of Jews into “Palestine” in 1939 to 1947, effectively guaranteeing the Holocaust? United States refusal to bomb the rail lines leading to the crematoriums facilitated the murder of 600,000 Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944, after the Germans had, for all practical purposes, already lost the war. Any country that refuses to place its embassy in the capital of Israel should not have an embassy in Israel at all. That includes the false and untrustworthy “ally” the United States.

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