Why Move The Israeli Embassy Now?


Leonard Zwelling

Why is the operative word?

There is no doubt that Mr. Trump’s latest flippancy, moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, is going to cause a stir. I suspect that is just what he wants. It will shore up his (and Roy Moore’s) evangelical base as well as satiate the AIPAC wing of the American Jewish community.

Even though Congress declared this move should have occurred by 1999, it has been put off by every president since because they all judged such a move would be lighting a fuse to a powder keg.

Nonetheless the delay by past presidents has surely not solved the question of how the land formerly known as Palestine would be divided between Arabs and Jews, but in theory the sides were still talking or at least considered the US an honest broker. That is probably over.

If you have been to this part of the world (or even if you haven’t), you would expect the following in the next few days:

Protest from the Palestinians in the West Bank, that part of what used to be Palestine, but is now considered Israel by Israel but in which the majority of the population is Arabic (Areas A and B).

That protest will spill over to the streets of Israel proper, meaning Jerusalem and East Jerusalem.

The checkpoints at the various gates, fences, and walls between the West Bank and Jewish Israel will become harder to pass as the police and IDF will bolster their presence and ramp up inspections.

There will be violence in the settlements, those parts of the West Bank occupied by Jews (Area C) from Arabs reaching over the walls that are built to protect the settlements but are not impervious.

Life will become harder and safety more tenuous. I would not stroll to the Western Wall (“The Kotel”) tomorrow night as I did many Fridays ago to celebrate the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Too dangerous going through the Old City tomorrow.

So why did President Trump choose now to do this?

First, it was a campaign promise of his and he seems to take these pretty seriously.

Second, I think he views the way in which most of his predecessors did their jobs as inferior. He has the better plan. This is just another example of what he is willing to do that Presidents Bush and Obama were not.

Third, he wants to light a fire under the Middle East peace talks. Well, this did that although it may have lit a fire TO them.

Fourth, maybe it will take everyone’s mind off of: Roy Moore, the Russians, Access Hollywood, and the fact that the president was not Time’s Person of the Year.

From my point of view, I do think this is long overdue. Pretending the seat of the Israeli government is not in Jerusalem is foolish. It is. That’s where the Knesset is and where the prime minister lives. To be blunt, Jerusalem is to Tel Aviv what Washington, DC is to New York City. Jerusalem and Washington are the capital cities and that’s where our embassy ought to be. That being said, what’s the rush? It’s been 2000 years since the Second Temple fell.

As for the Palestinians (Arabs who live in or used to live in the land claimed by Israel after 1948 and 1967), they really have to make a cogent argument about what they want that is feasible. Jerusalem will never be the capital of a Palestinian state. East Jerusalem could be. There is still no consensus on whether or not there will be a two-state or one-state solution. The former is American policy. The latter is Israeli policy. These two solutions are not compatible. Something has to give although the Israelis may be satisfied with the status quo as they clearly hold the upper economic hand and the settlements in the West Bank are getting bigger, not smaller.

I think Mr. Trump really believes that he is doing the right thing. Many American Jews and many American Evangelical Christians may agree. The world in Europe, Asia and the rest of the Arab world will disagree.

Just say for me I am not planning a trip to Jerusalem in the next week.

Leonard Zwelling