Trump Really Move the Embassy?
By Jonathan S. Tobin
December 13, 2016
campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said yesterdaythat the president-elect had
been talking privately about moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to
Jerusalem in the weeks since the election, a long-dormant issue sprang to life.
Can Donald Trump get away with altering a longstanding U.S. policy by
recognizing at least the partial sovereignty of Israel over Jerusalem, a change the
foreign policy establishment has told us would lead a cataclysm?
After watching Trump break every rule of American politics
this year and then shock the international community after his victory by
tossing aside the ďOne ChinaĒ policy that had governed U.S. relations with
the Far East since 1972, why would anyone doubt that he would be willing to do
the same on Jerusalem? One of Trumpís chief drawbacks is his ignorance of
complicated policy issues and his lack of respect for those who know more than
he does. But even his critics have to admit that one of his strengths is his
ability to view such topics from outside of the boxes in which those
professionals have imprisoned themselves.
To Trump, if something doesnít make sense to a layman,
then maybe itís not such a great idea. ďOne ChinaĒ is a complicated
formula that tacitly recognizes Beijingís sovereignty over Taiwan while still
supporting the islandís independence. But as far as he is concerned,
Americaís stance on the issue is just one more bargaining chip to be thrown
into the pot in negotiations, not
the religious obligation more experienced hands act like it is.
The same is true of Jerusalem. The refusal to move the
embassy is a relic of the 1947 United Nations partition agreement in which the
holy city was treated as an international zoneónot allocated to either the
putative Jewish state that became Israel or the Arab state the Muslim world
rejected. Israelís War of Independence ended with the city divided between
parts controlled by the Jews and areas illegally occupied by Jordan (including
the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose inhabitants were thrown out of their
homes and their synagogues all destroyed). The western sector controlled by
Israel was named its capital, but no nation recognized that designation or
Israeli sovereignty over any part of the city. That didnít change even after
June 1967, when the city was reunited after the Six Day War.
The assumption of those promoting a two-state solution is
that the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem would serve as the capital of the
Palestinian state that would be created as part of a peace settlement. We
donít know whether the Palestinians will ever take yes for an answer and
accept a peace that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter
where its borders are drawn. But no reasonable person can dispute that
Israel will always keep Western Jerusalem and those Jewish neighborhoods that
were built after 1967. The city is the countryís capital, and always will
To a Middle East novice like Trump, recognizing this is
just common sense. But for the foreign policy establishment, doing so would be a
grave mistake. It would prejudge the outcome of peace negotiations, their
thinking goes, and would result in violent riots throughout the Arab and Muslim
world with unforeseen consequences. Yet Trump, with his outsiderís viewpoint,
may get that these dire predictions are self-fulfilling prophecies, and
trap the U.S. in a policy that perpetuates the conflict rather than moving
towards a solution. If peace is to be achieved, the Palestinians and their
supporters must accept that the Jewish presence in Jerusalem will never be
reversed or its history erased (as the Palestinians have sought to do in various
United Nations resolutions that designate the Temple Mount and the Western Wall
as exclusively Muslim shrines).
It would be foolish to pretend that an embassy move would
not cause problems or lead to riots ginned up by Islamists who hate the
U.S. as much as they do Israel. But the world will not come to an end if the
U.S. sends a signal to the world Washington has finally understood that the
conventional wisdom about Jerusalem has done more to encourage Palestinian
intransigence than it has to promote a solution. The new embassy would also not
preclude a two-state solution or make it harder to achieve assuming the
Palestinians wanted peace since all it would do is to make it easier for U.S.
diplomats to travel between their new offices (at
an empty site owned by the U.S. that has been designated for that purpose for
decades) and Israeli government institutions they deal with.
On Jerusalem and One China, Trump may not be playing by the
existing diplomatic rules. But itís time for even those who doubted his
fitness for the presidency to admit that those rules donít always make sense and
changing them might do more good than harm.