The last time Arabs ruled eastern Jerusalem and the Old City all but one of the Jewish Quarter’s 35 synagogues was demolished, a fact John Kerry prefers not to mention. Trump’s pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv would end the prospect of history repeating itself.
As a candidate in the 2016 election season Donald Trump often talked of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was easy enough to dismiss. After all, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made the same promise before winning the White House.
This time around might be different. For a start, David Friedman sounds like a very different kind of U.S. ambassador to Israel. Here’s Friedman responding to Trump endorsing him for the post: “I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Should the United States relocate its embassy to Jerusalem? A lot of opinion in Australia is against it, although Tony Abbott saw merit in the idea. Australia joining a move by President Trump to shift its embassy to Jerusalem could “demonstrate its unswerving support for Israel, as the Middle East’s only liberal, pluralist democracy”. Members of the Turnbull government rebuffed “talkative” Abbott’s latest idea. Shifting the embassy would exacerbate an already problematic situation, especially with regards to the “two-state solution”. Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce referred to Abbott’s comments as “not helpful”, while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop gave her former leader short shrift: “The Australian government does not have any plans to move the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
Greg Barton, professor in global Islamic studies at Deakin University, made this case for retaining the status quo:
“The future of Israel for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Israelis and for people living on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank depends upon trust and negotiation…If we went ahead and moved our embassy, following suit after the Americans to Jerusalem, we would be closing off doors of opportunity to play that mediating role.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s, not surprisingly, took an even harder line, and warned that changing the US embassy would unleash a “crisis we will not be able to come out from” for “the peace process in the Middle East and even peace in the world”. Departing Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to be reading from the same script, characterising the planned embassy change as dangerous: “You’d have an explosion, an explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank, and perhaps in Israel itself, but throughout the region.”
But so many explosions are already taking place in the Middle East and none have anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Syria’s civil war alone has resulted resulting in as many as 470,000 deaths. Perhaps this outgoing secretary of state might have found better things to do than trying to foist on Mahmoud Abbas a Palestinian mini-state (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) instead of his real goal, a fully-fledged Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Palestinian Authority has played John Kerry for a fool. The latest version of Mahmoud Abbas’ polemic naturally enough features UN Resolution 2334 and its call for East Jerusalem – including the Jewish Quarter in the Old City – to be the capital of an independent Palestinian state. According to Abbas, at any rate, it would now be “hypocritical” of the US government to move its embassy before all Israeli-Palestinian territorial disputes, not least any final agreement on Jerusalem, are resolved. John Kerry – again – is on the same page as Mahmoud Abbas: “If all of a sudden Jerusalem is declared to be the location of our embassy, that has issues of sovereignty, issues of law that would deem to be affected by that move…”