US embassy’s move to Jerusalem to significantly complicate tense situation in region
1 February 2018. PenzaNews. The US embassy in Jerusalem will begin its work in 2019. This was announced by US President Donald Trump during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
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“We’ve developed a great relationship […] We have discussions going with Israel on many things, including trade. But the big move and something that was very historic and very important was the fact that we will be moving our embassy, as you know, to Jerusalem,” the American leader said and added that it would be “a small version” of the diplomatic mission in this city.
In turn, Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that this decision “will be forever etched in the hearts” of the Israeli people.
However, the possible consequences of the US Embassy’s move to Jerusalem have caused concern among a number of world powers, including countries of the EU and the Middle East. For example, French President Emmanuel Macron considered the actions of the US president to be “deplorable,” and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called the Jerusalem decision “slap of the century.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that Jerusalem should remain the capital of both states as there is no plan B for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This step of the United States was not supported by the authorities of Great Britain, Germany, Canada and Mexico. Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey condemned the position of Donald Trump, and Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, described the actions of the United States as “playing with fire in the literal sense of the word.”
Analyzing the reasons for this ambiguous decision, Hugh Gusterson, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University, president of the American Ethnological Society, suggested that they have more to do with politics in the US than in Israel.
“The Trump Administration is closer to the Israel lobby than any previous administration has been; it is a guiding principle of Trump’s policy-making to do the opposite of what Barack Obama did; and, of course, Palestinians are largely Muslim, and it is clear that Donald Trump doesn’t like Muslims. The interesting question is whether Saudi Arabia […] approved the shift,” the professor told PenzaNews.
Answering the question about why the US authorities finally decided to move to the implementation of the bill approved 23 years ago, the expert reminded that “American politics are always in tension between the legislative and executive branches.”
“Congress was responding to pressure from the Israel lobby when it approved the relocation of the embassy in 1995. But the State Department has always blocked the move, fearing it would trigger violence in the Middle East, make peace between Israel and the Palestinians harder, and isolate the US diplomatically. So for years the US has had its cake and eaten it too. Now a President who does not do well with complexity has decided to simply eat the cake,” Hugh Gusterson explained and added that the State Department might still find a way to defer the move.
According to Lidia Averbukh, Associate for Middle East and Africa Research Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Donald Trump thus is implementing an earlier public declaration he made in December 2017 designating, as he sees it, Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“The announcement is a major departure from more rhetorical statements made earlier that aimed to appeal to various domestic constituencies, including the evangelical Republican base. An actual presence of the US embassy in Jerusalem goes beyond symbolism, and the physical relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv is likely to lead to changes in the administrative, political and ceremonial life of Israel. There would be a slight political toning down if the embassy moved to the Western part of the city instead to the significantly Arab East Jerusalem,” the expert said.
Answering a question about why the decision to move the embassy, made back in 1995, has not been implemented so far, the analyst stressed that neither the Israeli government, nor the US authorities had been interested in such a move until today.
“On the contrary, the bill to provide for relocation of the US-Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem from 1995 was brought about by the opponents of the Oslo peace process, who aimed to impede the then ongoing talks. Today we are witnessing the unique constellation of right wing and religious powers in Israel and the United States simultaneously,” Lidia Averbukh said.
“The most dangerous reaction would be the Israeli interpretation of these circumstances as a carte blanche for further legislation on settlements and expansion direction West Bank,” the analyst added.
In turn, Evgeniya Voyko, associate professor of the department of political science at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, reminded that the actions of the United States met rather strong resistance from the Arab world, as well as the UN General Assembly.
“According to the US president, this year the embassy will not be moved to Jerusalem for technical reasons, but the decision has already been made. Washington implements infrastructure tasks and is ready to go to the mat on this issue,” the analyst said, adding that the American leader “needed some loud steps against the backdrop of a rather sluggish US campaign in Syria.”
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Analyzing the potential consequences of the embassy move, she stressed that this is only one of the US Middle East policy points.
“"Donald Trump provided very strong support to Israel. This, of course, will further exacerbate the already tense situation in the Middle East. Arab countries are dissatisfied with the policy implemented by the United States in the region as a whole, and with the Jerusalem situation in particular,” Evgeniya Voyko said.
According to her, this can lead to local clashes and collisions.
“The situation in the region has repeatedly exacerbated earlier, so the predictable outcome can be a tough and militant reaction of Palestine,” the expert stressed.
In her opinion, all this will not contribute to strengthening the US position.
“There is also Syrian direction in Washington's Middle East strategy; direction connected with Saudi Arabia, which is going through difficult times from a political point of view; there is also rather tense relations between the US and Iran, caused by Washington's position on the Iran nuclear deal. Moving the embassy will only be an additional negative element for the US and Donald Trump personally,” Evgeniya Voyko said.
Meanwhile, Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists, stressed that the decision to move the diplomatic mission goes against the existing resolutions of the UN Security Council on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Jerusalem.
“This decision rests on a law that mandates the relocation of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This law was signed in October 1995 by US President Bill Clinton. For more than 20 years, the law implementation was simply postponed, but nobody canceled it. Trump became the first president who decided to implement the provisions of the law. There is a certain logic in his actions. Why adopt the law, and then postpone its implementation for so many years? On the other hand, there should be no illusions about Trump’s position on Israel or Israeli-Palestinian relations: he is implementing his own election promises. It is known that the interests of the Trump family, his business interests are connected with Israel. Now these interests began to dominate American foreign policy in the Middle East,” the political scientist explained.
From his point of view, this can become bitter legacy for the future of American leadership.
“If the new administration comes to power on the wave of sharp criticism of the current policy, it will try to mitigate the consequences of this decision as much as possible,” Ilgar Velizade said.
“Nevertheless, we should not expect significant changes in the position of the current US administration regarding Jerusalem. [...] Undoubtedly, the implementation of the embassy transfer plan will further complicate the situation in the Middle East, and will also reduce the already low Washington authority in the region,” the analyst concluded.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the key problems in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
As a result of 1948–1949 Arab-Israeli war initiated by the Arab countries after the proclamation of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, Jerusalem, where the holy sites of Judaism, Islam and Christianity are located, was divided between Transjordan (now Jordan), which established control over the eastern part of the city, and Israel, which controlled its western part.
However, during the Six Day War of 1967, the Israelis annexed East Jerusalem. Since then, the Jewish state has insisted that Jerusalem is “eternal and indivisible” capital of Israel. In turn, the Palestinians want to make the eastern part of the city the capital of their state.
The UN did not recognize such “unification” under the Israeli flag. Jerusalem is considered the capital of Israel only by Israel, the US and some countries of Latin America. The rest consider Tel Aviv the capital of Israel, in accordance with the UN resolution. The diplomatic missions of 86 foreign states, including Russia, are located there.