U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem Is No Cause for Celebration

The relocation should cap negotiations leading to a Palestinian state, East Jerusalem its capital, alongside Israel, its capital is West Jerusalem

File photo: the US Embassy building in Tel Aviv January 20, 2017
JACK GUEZ/AFP

The State Department announced Friday that the U.S. Embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem in May, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence. “This is a great moment for the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response, adding that the decision “will make our Independence Day celebration even happier.” 

There’s no doubt that the government will turn the occasion into a giant event, even though in practice it merely means carving out office space for the ambassador and a small staff in the U.S. Consulate building in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. But in light of the nadir in relations between Israel and the Palestinians, there is absolutely no reason to celebrate.

Moving the embassy to Jerusalem could have been a cause for great celebration, had it come at the end of successful negotiations, as a symbol of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the start of a new era in the Middle East. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem should have been the cherry on top, a successful conclusion of the efforts of international diplomacy, which produced a peace agreement based on territorial partition and the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, alongside Israel whose capital is West Jerusalem.

After an agreement is reached between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel could celebrate the moving of the U.S. Embassy to its capital, together with that of many other embassies, the natural outcome of international recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

It also sounded, from the statements of President Donald Trump, that the move does not signal U.S. rejection of Palestinian claims to part of Jerusalem. Alongside the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump made it clear: “We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

Trump was careful in his speech to note that the process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem would take time — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson estimated it at more than two years — and when the move is completed, it will be a “great service for peace.” How can such a rushed transfer of the embassy be a service for peace is there is not even the slightest sign of peace on the horizon?

The American move gives off a bad smell; reports that American-Jewish businessman Sheldon Adelson, a patron of Netanyahu, has offered to pay for part of the cost of building the new embassy do not sweeten the air. It is very doubtful that such a move would be good for Israel. It will certainly not contribute to the United States’ image as a “honest broker.” If Trump cares about Israel’s welfare, a better 70th birthday present would be a peace plan that does right by both nations.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.