The Trump administration has taken a risk in moving the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has been denounced by Palestinians and many others. Now it must make the move serve the peace process — somehow.
Over recent weeks, the world has watched growing protests organized by Hamas at the Gaza border with Israel. On Monday, the day the U.S. embassy opened, nearly 60 people were killed and thousands injured by Israeli forces.
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The peace process has been at a standstill for years. Yet there is some reason to believe that the embassy action could shake things up — a Trump specialty — and get negotiations out of their moribund state. That will depend on whether the U.S. makes good on its pledges to pursue peace — or if it only reinforces an Israeli policy of containing violence on its borders, perpetuating misery in Gaza, and periodically “mowing the grass” with military action.
It will also depend on new Palestinian leadership that can speak with a cohesive voice, recognize Israel’s right to exist and stop encouraging martyrdom.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted each other on stage during the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act is the law of the land. It was passed by Congress in 1995 with overwhelming bipartisan support. It recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called for the U.S. embassy to be moved there from Tel Aviv. Every president since Bill Clinton, however, signed a waiver every six months to delay the move, citing national security concerns. The question of Jerusalem was always to be the last piece of the peace process; the establishment of a U.S. embassy there was to celebrate a crowning achievement.
The Trump administration announced in December that it would make good on the Jerusalem Embassy Act, fulfilling a campaign promise. Yet the move has a conspicuous Democratic supporter in Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who called the move “long overdue.”
Mr. Schumer’s support was echoed by Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel under Barack Obama and a longtime Middle East policy adviser to Democrats. “I support the move on its own merits,” he said, as long as it builds a path to the two-state solution. He also correctly questioned the timing of the ceremony. While it commemorated the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, it also coincided with the Palestinians’ day of “Nakba,” or catastrophe.
The new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is largely symbolic at the moment. It occupies the former U.S. consulate building in the Arnona neighborhood. While Ambassador David Friedman’s office and a few others will officially move there, the existing embassy in Tel Aviv will continue many of the functions of diplomacy. Plans are underway to build a new embassy, but that will take years. In the meantime, the higher-ranking American officials in the newly designated embassy should take advantage of its location adjacent to East Jerusalem, and begin to engage Palestinians who are ready to get serious.
The Israeli diplomat Abba Eban famously said the “Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” in pursuing Mideast peace. Today, all parties are guilty of this malfeasance, including the United States. Mr. Trump kept his own promise and a long-delayed multipresidential pledge. Breaking that promise to Israel did not help the peace process. The question is whether keeping the promise can, in some way and form over time, advance it.
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