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Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem: Opportunities, Risks,

Sunday, February 12, 2017 13:09
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Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem: Opportunities, Risks, and
Recommendations
INSS Insight No. 895
Amos Yadlin

http://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/No.%20895%20Yadlin%20Moving%20the%20US%20Embassy%20to%20Jerusalem%20.pdf

SUMMARY: During the American election campaign, one of the promises that
President Trump made was to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In principle, Israel cannot but welcome this important US move, should it be
approved. Moving the embassy would strengthen Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s
capital in the eyes of the rest of the world, and therefore it would be
wrong of Israel to oppose it, apart from any political context and/or
considerations of timing. Furthermore, it is important to understand that
this is an internal US decision in which Israel was not asked to take a
stand, and it therefore behooves Israel to maintain a low profile on the
issue. Nonetheless, Israel should calculate the implications and
ramifications of the initiative, consider the inherent opportunities and
risks, and prepare accordingly. Using discreet channels, Israel should
recommend to the administration the manner and timing of the move so that
potential risks will be minimized.

During the American election campaign, one of the promises that President
Trump made was to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Unlike
other issues, such as immigration and trade, about which Trump made some
quick decisions during his first few days in office, he announced that the
embassy question is complex and will be discussed in the coming months. King
Abdullah’s visit to the United States and messages from the Arab world
expressed several risks that such a move would entail, possibly causing the
president to rethink his commitment. The administration’s decision on
upholding or curbing the 1995 Congressional legislation on moving the
embassy to Jerusalem must be made before June 2017, when a presidential
decision is required (every six months).

In principle, Israel cannot but welcome this important US move, should it be
approved. Moving the embassy would strengthen Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s
capital in the eyes of the rest of the world, and therefore it would be
wrong of Israel to oppose it, apart from any political context and/or
considerations of timing. Furthermore, it is important to understand that
this is an internal US decision in which Israel was not asked to take a
stand, and it therefore behooves Israel to maintain a low profile on the
issue. Nonetheless, Israel should calculate the implications and
ramifications of the initiative, consider the inherent opportunities and
risks, and prepare accordingly. Using discreet channels, Israel should
recommend to the administration the manner and timing of the move so that
potential risks will be minimized.

Potential Risks to Israel

It would be unwise to ignore the risks involved in moving the embassy, even
if we assume that Palestinians and opponents to the move both in Israel and
the United States are amplifying these risks. First, there is the threat of
a renewed Palestinian intifada, using Jerusalem as its symbol and the
inflammatory slogan of “al-Aqsa is in danger” as its rallying cry. This
could include another round of fighting in the Gaza Strip, which is already
at the boiling point, and could set off riots among Israel’s Arab citizens.
Second, the warning has been heard against the continued freeze of the
political process, and the embassy’s move would make it even more difficult
to restart the political process in the future. Third, emphasizing the US
Embassy’s move to West Jerusalem paradoxically might weaken Israel’s claim
to a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and under Israel’s control; in
other words, it would strengthen international recognition of East Jerusalem
as the capital of Palestine.

Another risk to Israel is a deterioration in relations with Jordan and
Egypt. Popular opposition to the move in those states could erupt,
threatening the stability of the respective regimes. In recent years,
cooperation has flourished between Israel and both states around shared
interests in security, resources, and infrastructure, in part because the
Palestinian issue has not been at the top of their agendas. But moving the
US Embassy might change that, and result in deteriorating relations between
Israel, on the one hand, and Egypt and Jordan, on the other, as well as
between Israel and all other Muslim states. Such developments might spark
terrorist activity by different Islamist groups against US targets around
the world, attacks for which Israel would assume the blame.

Positive Aspects

By contrast, from the Israeli perspective, one can point to several positive
reasons for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. First, strengthening the
status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a prime Israeli interest.
Redressing the anomaly by which the US Embassy to Israel is in Tel Aviv
while the US Consulate in Jerusalem serves only Palestinians would finally
put an end to the notion of internationalizing Jerusalem as part of UN
Security Council Resolution 181. Second, the move would make it clear to the
Palestinians that in the Trump era, time is not on their side, a factor that
might, in fact, propel them to stop refusing to negotiate, which
characterized their conduct during Obama’s term in office. Third, from the
perspective of international institutions, moving the embassy to Jerusalem
would be an answer to UNESCO’s unilateral resolution in which it adopted the
Palestinian proposal denying any Jewish and Israeli connection to its
capital. Fourth, despite the sensitivity of the topic and its broader
religious significance, in principle, it would be wrong to give in to
threats of popular protests in the Arab streets or threats of terrorist
attacks. The Muslim world in general and the Palestinians in particular
understand that the expected negative reactions to the embassy’s move will
deter the United States and Israel, and could affect future actions and
debates on other issues. Fifth, an unequivocal American show of support for
Israel is needed now and would demonstrate the strategic alliance between
the two countries, a bond that is of utmost importance for Israel. The
history of US support for Israel has shown that it does not harm the status
of the United States in the Arab world; sometimes, the opposite is true.

Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

In weighing the positive and negative aspects, a clear conclusion is drawn
in favor of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. This step is appropriate and
desirable from the Israeli perspective, if it is made with the right timing
and in the proper context such that its inherent advantages are maximized
and risks minimized. To this end, it is important that the United States and
Israel hold a discrete discussion with Jordan and Egypt to understand their
needs on this and other issues in order to prevent the relations between
Israel and its two Arab neighbors from escalating and deteriorating.

Most of the risks presented are exaggerated, and can be avoided by taking
measured steps. The political process is at an impasse in any case; there is
no progress due to the Palestinian strategy, which since 2008 has been to
internationalize the conflict as a substitute for bilateral negotiations.
The embassy’s move may well shock the Palestinians into rethinking their
strategy and restarting talks. In fact, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the
Palestinian Authority, was recently quoted as saying—for the first time in a
decade—that time is now working against the Palestinians.

The probability of another intifada is not high, because the Palestinian
population has no interest in another all-out confrontation. Public
awareness and public relations can reduce the negative ramifications of
propaganda and incitement, which is expected to present the move as an
attack on Islam’s holy places on the Temple Mount. Damage to Israel’s
relations with Egypt and Jordan and possible harm to the regimes in those
states— and to a certain extent, this is also true of Morocco— pose the
greatest risk. But this risk may be mitigated by undertaking the move in
consultation with the US administration, and by seeking to meet the vital
interests of Egypt and Jordan, while reiterating the Hashemite Kingdom’s
special status regarding Jerusalem’s holy places, as stated in its peace
treaty with Israel. One may assume that the Egyptian and Jordanian
ambassadors will be recalled for consultation, but that after some time they
will return to Tel Aviv, as they have in the past.

The strategic context in which the move will take place will greatly affect
the extent to which the risks are realized. It is imperative to avoid
increasing the move’s explosive potential as a result of actions by Israel,
such as by making decisions to annex territories or that affect the Temple
Mount (violent clashes, visits by political figures, and so on).
Furthermore, it is possible to soften the impact by making positive
political moves towards renewing negotiations on relevant parameters;
engaging in a significant initiative to improve the socioeconomic status of
Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem; and expanding the PA’s
powers in Areas A and B. Moreover, the Palestinians should be conferred with
an accomplishment, by emphasizing the role of the US Consulate in Sheikh
Jarrah and by making it clear that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of
Israel does not necessarily determine the future status of the eastern part
of the city; its fate is to be determined by negotiations, which must be
restarted.

Aside from the steps Israel should take to reduce the possibility of the
risks from being realized, various parties within Israel must avoid
referring to the embassy’s possible move in apologetic terms. After all,
Israel cannot allow itself to do anything—neither discretely nor
publicly —to prevent it from happening.



Source: http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=72177

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