Moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could ignite a spark that would set the entire region aflame. It’s just not worth it.
By James J. Zogby / +972 Magazine
January 17, 2017
[The author is the president of the Arab American Institute.]
Palestine may have dropped off the radar for a time, but it remains “the open wound in the heart, that never heals.” Violating Jerusalem and unrest in occupied Palestinian lands would rip the scab off that wound reminding Arabs of their vulnerability and their inability to control their history in the face of betrayal by the West. Ignore this passion and there will be consequences.
In just a matter of days, President-elect Donald Trump will have to decide on whether or not to make good on his promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As we approach Inauguration Day, liberal and conservative commentators alike have offered a number of ideas as to how he can proceed. Ranging from “too cute by half” to just plain dumb, they should all be rejected. More to the point, all of the proposals I have seen focus exclusively on Israeli concerns, ignoring or giving short shrift to Palestinian and broader Arab or Muslim concerns and sensitivities.
On the one side, there are proposals from hardliners who advise Trump to just go ahead and make the move. They argue that in fulfilling his campaign promise he will appease his base and gain international respect for being a strong and decisive leader. They dismiss Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim opinions, relying on the false assumptions that there is diminished concern across the Arab world for the Palestinian issue or making the racist case that Arabs respect strength and will ultimately become reconciled to a U.S. move.
Then there are a number of “clever” proposals that assume that the move can be finessed in ways that will, in effect, fool both Israelis and Palestinians. One has the new U.S. ambassador living and working in Jerusalem, while keeping the “official” U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Another suggests that the U.S. can couple moving its embassy to Jerusalem with opening a liaison office in Ramallah, while promising to study opening a embassy for a future Palestinian state in East Jerusalem.
No one should be fooled — none of these proposals will work. Those who think that Arabs and Muslims will simply bow down before a Trumpian display of decisive strength are playing with fire. It is true that the region is divided and distracted by the unraveling consequences of the Arab Spring, but messing with Jerusalem would be the catalyst for a focused and unified Arab and Muslim response. There would be massive unrest across the region and demands for a response. Should governments fail to act, it would be provide revolutionary Iran and extremist Sunni groups the opening they want to discredit those governments and further destabilize the region.