On May 14, a date that coincides with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s modern founding, President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and a number of members of Congress attended the opening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
The historic event officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, breaking decades-old U.S. policy with diplomatic relations being conducted in Tel Aviv. President Trump stated the move should be seen as, “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”
The embassy will be temporarily housed in the former consulate building in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona as the Trump Administration scouts out a permanent location, despite the diplomatic migration from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem being met with Palestinian-backed hostility.
As the event began Monday, Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border clashed with Israeli solders, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. Israeli forces killed 55 Palestinian protesters and wounded more than 2,200 others as thousands of Palestinians entered their seventh week of protests aimed at returning territory back to Palestine that is now part of Israel.
Although the White House says that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will increase stability and the chance of peace, it undoubtedly comes at a seemingly unpredictable and chaotic time in the region.
The embassy opening comes right before the Palestinian holiday “Nakba Day,” or the Day of Catastrophe, where Palestinians commemorate lands they either fled or were evicted from after the creation of the state of Israel. Moreover, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this week.
Last week, Trump ordered the end to the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, a move many in the world reportedly said would negate the current status of peaceful talks within the region. Also, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed documents showing that Hassan Rouhani’s Iranian military has continued to seek building nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Israel and Iran are edging closer to war as Iranian proxies in Syria launched 20 missiles into the Golan Heights on May 9, resulting in the first strike from Israel into the country in decades.
Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East expert with the Center for New American Security, told Vox that Trump’s decision significantly undercuts U.S. credibility as a neutral party in the conflict. Furthermore, he said the U.S. is, “supposed to be acting like the fireman,” on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process negotiations, but he says, “Instead, we’re acting like the arsonist — we’re making things worse.”
Moving the U.S. embassy isn’t anything new. In 1995, Congress passed, with overwhelmingly bipartisan and bicameral support, the Jerusalem Embassy Act. The Act recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city, much to the dismay of the Palestinians.
Also, the embassy and the other provisions of the act were to, “be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999,” according to the bill.
Despite passage, the law allowed the President to invoke a six-month waiver of the application of the law, and reissue the waiver every six months on “national security” grounds. The waiver was repeatedly invoked by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. President Trump only invoked the waiver once, in June of last year.
The U.S. has been the “overseer” of languishing negotiations over the state of Israel. This is due, in part, because the UN is remarkably anti-Israel.
In December, the UN voted 128-9 to condemn the actions of the U.S. and President Trump announcing the move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Other than the U.S. and Israel, the only nations voting against the resolution condemning the move were: Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Togo.
Upon the results of the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley excoriated the governing body.
According to The Times of Israel, Haley stated:
“To its shame, the United Nations has long been a hostile place for the state of Israel. Both the current and the previous Secretary-Generals have objected to the UN’s disproportionate focus on Israel. It’s a wrong that undermines the credibility of this institution, and that in turn is harmful for the entire world.
I’ve often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body. And then I remember that Israel has chosen to remain in this institution because it’s important to stand up for yourself. Israel must stand up for its own survival as a nation; but it also stands up for the ideals of freedom and human dignity that the United Nations is supposed to be about.
Standing here today, being forced to defend sovereignty and the integrity of my country – the United States of America – many of the same thoughts have come to mind. The United States is by far the single largest contributor to the United Nations and its agencies. We do this, in part, in order to advance our values and our interests. When that happens, our participation in the UN produces great good for the world. Together we feed, clothe, and educate desperate people. We nurture and sustain fragile peace in conflict areas throughout the world. And we hold outlaw regimes accountable. We do this because it represents who we are. It is our American way.
The arguments about the President’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem have already been made. They are by now well known. The decision was in accordance to U.S. law dating back to 1995, and it’s position has been repeatedly endorsed by the American people ever since. The decision does not prejudge any final status issues, including Jerusalem’s boundaries. The decision does not preclude a two-state solution, if the parties agree to that. The decision does nothing to harm peace efforts. Rather, the President’s decision reflects the will of the American people and our right as a nation to choose the location of our embassy. There is no need to describe it further.
Instead, there is a larger point to make. The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.
America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do, and it is the right thing to do. No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that.
But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN. And this vote will be remembered.”
Jerusalem is the nexus of the Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Apart from supposed national security reasons, the U.S. has not moved on the congressional action to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem because it would then perceive to the world that the U.S. was on the side of Israel. Experts tell us that the move essentially shuts down all avenues of discussion with the Palestinian delegation.
Khaled Elgindy, a fellow with the Brookings Institute, says, “If you don’t have Palestinian involvement, you don’t have a peace process. It’s as simple as that.” He added, “I don’t see how a Palestinian leader can engage with this administration on the peace process after Monday.”
Of course, the embassy move was also supposed to be the war-cry and trigger pull to sound the bell for the beginning World War 3, cause the Middle East to erupt in anger, shift the geopolitical influence within the region from the U.S. and her allies to some other, yet-to-be-named nation, among other end-of-times occurrences.
Yes, much of the world was in shock when President Trump announced the move.
Yes, the Palestinians held a general strike, and four protesters died during clashes with Israeli soldiers.
Yes, thousands protested in Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, and elsewhere; but the protests were short-lived and mostly peaceful. The massive, overwhelming, violent reaction people feared never came.
The ongoing economic issues, political unrest, military conflicts, and aftermath of the Arab Spring has the majority of the Middle Eastern nations dealing with issues within their own borders. Authoritarianism at home is much more attention-getting than the move of an embassy from city to city in a different country.
Presumably, the nations of the Middle East and the leaders and citizens therein do not have the capacity to respond to the latest geopolitical outrage.
Furthermore, several Arab nations have been growing closer to Israel, albeit somewhat quietly.
In February, The New York Times reported, “For more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt, frequently more than once a week — and all with the approval of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.” The Egyptians thought the Israelis could handle the conflict better than they could and has brought their diplomatic relationship closer to one another.
In April, again by The New York Times, Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, said that Israelis, “‘have the right to have their own land’ and that formal relations between Israel and the kingdom could be mutually beneficial.” As well, he disparaged the Palestinian leadership while visiting the U.S. Salman said, “It’s about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”
Last week, just after President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa tweeted, in a report from The Jerusalem Post, “As long as Iran has breached the status quo in the region and has (yet to) evacuate its troops and missiles, any state in the region, including Israel, is entitled to defend itself by destroying the sources of danger.” Such a statement shows that there are growing Arab fears surrounding Iran and that they may outweigh regional disagreements.
The U.S. will not step down from being a part of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as “experts” say they have. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem shows that the U.S. is more a part of it than ever.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the move was done to create, “a better dynamic for peace,” and that, “from a broader perspective, this helps stability.”
Considering one can ascertain the fact that the UN and a majority of its member-nations have been on the side of Palestine, whereas Israel has seen little help from outside the U.S., the embassy move does not take anyone off the table — it simply levels the playing field.