The US Embassy Move Reflects the New Middle East
When Iranian Quds forces fired missiles at Israeli targets on the Golan Heights recently and Israel responded by decimating significant parts of Iran’s military infrastructure inside Syria, something remarkable happened. The United States, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, and United Arab Emirates all identified Iran as the aggressor. Bahrain even explicitly acknowledged the Jewish state’s right “to defend itself.” A decade ago, that would have been unthinkable, but the Middle East has changed in a very fundamental way.
The emergence of Iran’s Shiite empire, which not only threatens the existence of the Jewish state but the security of America’s Arab allies, has transformed the region. Old alliances have disintegrated and new ones are forming. Faced with the growing threat of Iran’s aggression in the region, as well as the transformative phenomenon of the Arab Spring revolts, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is no longer a high priority for America’s Arab allies.
During a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York in April, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam openly stated, “There are much more urgent and more important issues to deal with (than the Palestinians) — such as Iran.” The Palestinians, the prince said, should either start accepting peace proposals or “shut up.” Earlier, in an interview with The Atlantic, bin Salam acknowledged that “the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland.”
The decision by the Trump administration to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem tacitly recognizes the “new Middle East.” True, the commitment to make Jerusalem the home of America’s embassy isn’t new. The move implements the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, a bipartisan law that was once again championed by Congress in 2017. The mild response to the decision, however, particularly from Arab leaders, is a game-changer.
The Palestinians abandoned the negotiating table in 2014, preferring instead to assault Israel at the United Nations through a series of resolutions designed to erase the eternal connection of Jews and Israel to Jerusalem. This is a familiar tactic by leaders of the Palestinian Authority, which calls into question their fundamental commitment to achieve political objectives through direct, bilateral negotiations with their Israeli counterparts. President Trump’s decision to move the embassy is also a pushback against these attempts to delegitimize Israel at the United Nations.
In Gaza, where violence “broke out” on Israel’s southern border in the hours before the celebratory opening of the embassy, the tragic deaths that occurred were not the result of a peaceful or spontaneous protest. This was an orchestrated operation by Hamas, which knows that Palestinian casualties, regardless of the circumstances, will be blamed on Israel. The protests are not peaceful, nor are they spontaneous, as evidenced by the fact that the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem remained quiet.
Daniel B. Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, wrote in Foreign Policy in January 2017, “The presence of a US embassy in parts of Jerusalem no one disputes are Israeli territory is one way of acknowledging the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city, the questioning of which is closely linked to the denial of Israel’s very legitimacy.”
For over 3,000 years, Jerusalem has played a central role in the history and identity of the Jewish people. Numerous archaeological excavations have established an undeniable physical, historical, and symbolic link between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. The long-overdue decision to relocate the embassy reflects the reality on the ground by recognizing that Jerusalem is where Israel’s capital has been located since 1950.
US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital corrects a historical injustice. Going forward, we hope this also creates an opportunity to revive a stagnant peace process by reinforcing to Palestinian leaders that there is simply no alternative to direct and genuine peace talks, especially in the new Middle East.
Joshua S. Block is CEO and President of The Israel Project. He is a former Clinton administration official and spokesman at the State Department’s USAID. He got his start on Capitol Hill in the office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and was a spokesman for the Clinton/Gore and Gore/Lieberman presidential campaigns. Follow him on Twitter @JoshBlockDC. A version of this article was originally published by The Hill.