image of jerusalem 2017

Will the US Embassy Move to Jerusalem?
It is often not easy to read President Trump, not necessarily because he is so smart as he often reminds us, but because he is quite unpredictable. In my opinion, one of the challenges of a Trump presidency in the next four years will be to decide whether he means what he says, or whether his narcissism will change its mind overnight.

24 January   |   2017   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

A recurrent theme of candidate Trump, also reiterated when he became President-Elect Trump, was that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And unlike President Barack Obama eight years ago when his first presidential call was to Mahmoud Abbas, this new president tellingly phoned Benyamin Netanyahu instead. He also appointed as ambassador to Israel David Friedman who is an ultra-orthodox Jew planning to live in Jerusalem regardless of the decision by the US Administration. Moreover, he supports settlement activities, and will probably be as comfortable a diplomat for Israel as he would be for the USA.

So what is the likelihood that there will be an attempt - not unlikely - to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem after May 2017? This is when the latest presidential waiver flowing from the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that President Obama signed again in December 2016 citing “national security interests” expires anew.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority and its acolytes have busily been trying to alert the Arab World and other Western leaders to the dangers of such a move by the Trump Administration. But the problem is that President Trump does not conform to orthodox politics and might well choose to tweet to the world one day after May 2017 that the embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And the moves that Mahmoud Abbas and others in the Palestinian political leadership are adopting to checkmate such a move could well prove fruitless.

So what will happen if such a move is indeed put into gear?

I keep hearing that there will be hell to pay on the Palestinian streets. I also hear that there will also be huge demonstrations and expostulations in the Arab World. Whereas others suggest that the EU - chief funder for Palestinians - will robustly oppose this decision. There is even loose talk about the Palestinian Authority seising the ICC. I suspect that Palestinians are far too tired and much too divided to launch a third Intifada. I also do not believe that the Arab World will inevitably rise up against such a decision as many Arab leaders will quash those protests anyway. And the EU is far too enmeshed in its own flagellations to challenge a US decision. Besides, the ICC approach is long-term and that is not an available commodity for a fast-disappearing two-state solution.

But even assuming that there are street demonstrations, will they make a radical difference? I don’t think so. However, I believe that it is high time that the Palestinians realise they are in a difficult corner and start thinking more strategically. And the only way to do that is for them to prove that the relocation of the embassy will be even more painful for Israel than for the Palestinians. This requires a more focused decision.

What could it be though?

If I were advising the Palestinians, I would argue that they dissolve the Palestinian Authority in case of such a relocation of the US embassy. In other words, they should dismantle its structures and return the key for the territories to the occupying and colonising Israel. This would trigger the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and revert the burden of the occupation and its concomitant administrative and financial responsibilities to Israel. Critically, this would mean that the security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian forces would cease too. Is this not what many Israeli military officers have strongly admonished the Israeli government against?

The big question though is whether the Palestinians are willing to bite the bullet and assume the pain of such an initiative? Will they to forsake their vested interests and go for the political jugular as a non-violent option, and in the process make Israel re-consider its wholesale subjugation of another people?

Fifty years ago, PM David Lloyd George adopted the Balfour Declaration that helped create a festering conflict. I would argue that the existential stakes are even higher now: so will the Palestinians pick up the gauntlet?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2017   |   24 January


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