Opinion

The Jerusalem Embassy Flop

Relocating embassies to Jerusalem violates a worldwide consensus, and what’s happening now proves that Trump’s exhibitionist move didn’t change that

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands behind as U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the proclamation he signed that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, during an address from the White House in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2017.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The effort to leverage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest achievement – America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocation of its embassy to the city – is proving to be an ongoing flop. Only two small countries have so far imitated the United States by moving their embassies to Jerusalem, Guatemala and Paraguay, mainly in order to flatter U.S. President Donald Trump.

And now that it has a new government, even tiny Paraguay has recanted and is moving its embassy back to Tel Aviv.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

On the day the U.S. Embassy moved to Jerusalem, Dr. Miriam Adelson wrote the following in Israel Hayom, the free daily she publishes: “For too long, the Palestinians stymied peace with Israel by insisting on the lie that Jerusalem was theirs. The pragmatists among them understood that this was a non-starter – that Israelis would never give up on the city promised to them in the Bible, millennia before the advent of Islam ... By removing any question about U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Trump has freed up these pragmatists to think anew and craft a workable accommodation with their Israeli neighbors.”

But if we’re already talking about pragmatism, then reality, and global public opinion as well, refuse to remove Jerusalem from the negotiating table, just as they refuse to negate the millions of Palestinians planted between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, no matter how wealthy and powerful the Adelsons are or how many Knesset seats Netanyahu is winning in the polls.

Even Trump, who Adelson’s article called “the standard-bearer of moral clarity and courage,” hasn’t changed Jerusalem’s status in any substantive way, and in his speech announcing the embassy move, he was careful to retain the distinction between the city’s western and eastern parts. Netanyahu’s entire dream of relocating embassies to Jerusalem – a dream he has deemed a diplomatic goal of the utmost importance – rests on the sign Ivanka Trump unveiled in May, when the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was inaugurated.

>> Read more: Can Netanyahu and Trump Downgrade the Palestinian Issue for Good? | Analysis

It’s not wise to dismiss the importance of a broad international agreement and put all your eggs in President Trump’s wobbly basket. In May, for instance, in a fit of temper, Trump abandoned the nuclear deal with Iran that was signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama. But efforts by members of the European Union, as well as other countries like Russia and China, have so far kept the agreement alive, and their determined stance will likely preserve it for the future as well, if the Iranians pull the covers over their heads and wait patiently for Trump’s departure. Because that’s what happens when you’re part of a broad front – if one player, however key, quits or is downed, the team can still keep playing.

Relocating embassies to Jerusalem violates a worldwide consensus, and what’s happening now proves that Trump’s exhibitionist move didn’t change that. The fact is that despite various discussions and flirtations, in the end, countries are voting with their feet.

For many years, there has been quiet international recognition of the fact that western Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, despite the ongoing conflict over the city between the two peoples. But this exists alongside a tacit assumption that ultimately, there will be no choice but to divide the city along the lines dictated by its demographic geography and reach a compromise over its holy sites under international auspices.

A process of relocating embassies without achieving an agreement with the Palestinians is a plastic prosthesis, alien and foreign, which the Middle Eastern body will simply reject. An unnecessary insistence on this will not only fail to persuade the world of the necessity of its assimilation, but is likely to create a new golem that will turn against Israel the day after Trump leaves office, when the world, in reaction, may demand that it pay a diplomatic price that wasn’t asked of it in the past. Are a few buildings adorned with flags worth that price?