Editorial |

Peace Talks First. The U.S. Embassy Can Wait

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Sheldon Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sheldon Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Sheldon Adelson is probably fed up with U.S. President Donald Trump. After he contributed a hefty sum to his election campaign and even gave some $5 million for the inauguration, Trump is daring to insolently present new conditions for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

This wasn’t the deal Adelson made, and he believes deals are meant to be upheld. It’s worth paying attention to the fact that neither the citizens of Israel nor its government seem to have any standing in this deal, as if we’re not talking about the Israeli capital or a move that, if made, could harm the peace process. United Jerusalem has suddenly turned in a commodity in a tycoons’ dispute.

The disagreement over the embassy has moved to Jerusalem, where two political hagglers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, are having yet another spat. It seems this time that Netanyahu, who showed restraint on the matter of settlement construction and even persuaded his rival to lower his tone on the matter, understands that moving the embassy at a time when Israel is expected to look like a seeker of peace isn’t a very good idea. It seems as if he actually supports Trump’s position, which is to examine whether the move would help the peace process or undermine it.

But Bennett is snapping at his heels, afraid that Trump is not the same president who had “more than once lauded Jewish settlement throughout the Land of Israel and about moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” but the man about whom he said, “Since being elected and to date, there has been a change in the spirit of things, and the sources of that change aren’t entirely clear.” And lo, to appease his furthest-right, ultanationalist coalition partner, Netanyahu hastened to declare that moving the embassy would be beneficial to peace.

Is this really a public dispute between the American administration and the Israeli government, or just an arm-wrestling contest at the neighborhood kiosk? Trump has already learned something about how domestic Israeli politics works and the dispute that’s been making headlines will fade. But it’s too early to bet on that, because we’re talking about Donald Trump.

The crux of the matter is that moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem is not a real-estate deal. It’s a very important diplomatic declaration that will be considered a unilateral move even before arrangements to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ opposition to the move is known to Trump, and the positions of the Arab leaders he’s met are no secret, either.

Moving the embassy could serve as a sweetener to Israel at the end of negotiations, or as part of their conditions, perhaps alongside a U.S. embassy to the Palestinian state. But it certainly cannot be an issue to be negotiated between Adelson and Trump.