US president-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to move his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, most recently in response to the UN Security Council Resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank.
But since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, several US presidents have failed to keep their promises to move the US embassy despite pledges on the campaign trail to do so. So the question is whether Trump will actually come through on his promise.
Last week, his pledge appeared to take tangible steps forward after three Republican senators in the US introduced legislation recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Yet, it must be remembered that in 1995 the US Congress passed a similar act which recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stated that the US embassy should move no later than 1999. Successive presidents have postponed its implementation every six months.
However, what makes Trump’s threat more serious this time around is his extreme support for Israel. He seems to be madly in love with it and especially with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
What makes the pledge dangerous is that it comes at a time when divisions between Palestinians are increasing and when Palestinian leadership is weakening as a result.
As a piece in the US journal Foreign Affairs suggested last month, recalling former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s infamous visit to Jerusalem in 2000 that set off an Intifada that raged for four years, a US embassy move could easily trigger a new Palestinian uprising. Yet, repeatedly members of Trump’s campaign and his aides have promised the move.
Recently, Israel’s Channel 2 news channel reported that staff from the US Republican Party involved in the Trump campaign, already on the hunt for a piece of land for the new embassy, had settled upon the site of the Diplomat Hotel in Jerusalem.
It is as if we were being told that a building already existed and all that is needed is the decision to move the embassy to it.
It will not be easy to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, as this is a measure which would not only contravene international law and the legal status of Jerusalem, but would also contradict the US policy that has been in place for many years.
However, neither Palestinian nor Arab officials have done much to make the move more difficult: their reactions have been entirely tame and inappropriate considering the seriousness of the issue.
Not one political, media or diplomatic campaign has been organised to explain the unprecedented blowback that would come from the Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and international community if the measure were actually adopted.
At first, senior Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat ignored the issue. Later, he ruled out the likelihood that Trump would actually follow through on his pledge, seeming to be utterly oblivious to the hostility of Trump and his team toward Palestinians and Arabs and even more so towards Muslims.
Finally, he said that Palestinians took the likelihood of the embassy move seriously and would have an appropriate response, potentially withdrawing Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel.
The statements Trump made and the opinions he expressed during his US presidential election campaign and after his victory are extremely disturbing. They included remarks from a top aide who said that for Trump the Israeli settlements were “not an obstacle to peace”.
Trump also sought to dissuade both Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi from tabling the Draft Resolution condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank at the UN Security Council and the US Obama administration from allowing the Resolution to pass by not vetoing it.
“As to the UN, things will be different after January 20,” Trump tweeted, suggesting that he will try to ignore the resolution. This will not be easy given that it has gained wide support from the international community.
The decision by a significant number of western countries to vote in favour of the resolution, the support Germany showed for it despite not being a UN Security Council member, and the abstention of the US were not about settling a score between outgoing US president Barack Obama and Netanyahu, but about a global concern for the repercussions that Trump’s victory could have for the US and the world.
The UN Security Council Resolution was meant to be an impediment to prevent the situation in the Middle East from further deterioration.
Getting worse: The Obama administration went as far as to support a UN Security Council Resolution that defined the basis, objectives and frame of reference for a peace settlement. When it abstained from the vote, it meant to draw a line that neither Trump nor Netanyahu could cross after it was gone.
Some in Israeli circles have warned that the country could become an extremist nationalist religious state in the absence of a US president in the White House to deter it as has been the case in the past. Indeed, Trump would only encourage Israel to take this direction.
Others have welcomed his election victory, considering it to be an opportunity to get rid of the two-state solution once and for all and to annex the existing Israeli settlements on the Occupied West Bank or even the whole of Area C, to expand settlement building, and to remove all restrictions imposed on construction.
However, even those who welcomed Trump’s pledge, including Israeli minister of Jerusalem affairs, did not expect him in fact to move the embassy because they assumed the US state department and legal experts would warn him against the repercussions of doing so.
As a result, some in Israel have demanded that the Israeli government take the initiative of moving its own offices and ministries to Jerusalem so that Trump and the rest of the world can follow suit.
We live in a world that comprehends no language other than that of interests and power. Whoever lacks mastery of one or both of these languages will not be heard.
If Palestinians, Arabs and the free people of the world wish to prevent the US embassy in Israel from being moved to Jerusalem, then they have to move promptly and be ready to act before it is too late. They should explain the seriousness of the fallout this step could have on America’s relations, interests and influence in the region.
These repercussions could include the eruption of an Intifada that will be far larger than its predecessors, the renunciation of the peace process that began with the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, the pursuit of a new multi-dimensional strategy whose cornerstone will be steadfastness and resistance in the land of Palestine, and the use of all means and legitimate weapons commensurate with international law, chief among them the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, to pursue Israel for its occupation, crimes and racism at all levels and in all Arab, regional and international forums.
It will not be easy to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because such a measure would have huge repercussions. However, with Trump in power in the US, it would no longer be impossible, especially when Israel is ruled by the most extreme government in its history.
We stand on the threshold of a new era that may witness a shift in American policy, already bad, to the worst it has been on the Palestinian issue. We may be witnessing the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution and the peace process. Trump’s pledge should not be underestimated.
The writer is director-general of Masarat, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies.