By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News—
There is a great deal of anticipation in Israel ahead of US President Donald Trump’s announcement due Wednesday regarding Washington’s policy toward Jerusalem.
Trump surprised Israeli leaders and pundits last week when he called for action on his campaign promise to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A major speech by the president is expected mid-week, but aides in Washington and experts in Israel expect that Trump will, for a second time, reluctantly sign a waiver postponing the embassy move for yet another six months. A 1995 law requires that the US relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but provides the president with the option to postpone the move every six months on the grounds of national security. All presidents since Bill Clinton have done so and the newest deadline is Monday.
According to The Washington Post, the president has grown “agitated and exasperated” by those advising against following through on his pledge. Back in June, when he signed the last waiver, Trump was thought to have been influenced and pressured in discussions with moderate Arab leaders who warned that moving the embassy could end peace prospects while triggering Middle East turmoil. A reported compromise is apparently in the works that envisions Trump signing the waiver by Monday’s deadline and then two days later delivering a speech where he declares that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital as a step towards future relocation of the embassy.
Veteran Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger spoke to World Israel News (WIN) of his concern that if Trump backs down on the embassy move, it will be perceived as weakness. “Enemies of the US and Israel will view the new waiver signing as a retreat forced by pressure and threats. Deterrence must be restored for there to be national security,” he said. Ettinger suggests that Trump could “move the embassy to the western side of the city so that he is not making a unilateral determination on the final status of the eastern parts of the city.” He warned that “making a Jerusalem statement could result in a short-term aggressive Arab reaction, so why not go all the way and move the embassy now and restore a sense of strength and deterrence.”
Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs does see value in a strong Jerusalem statement. He told WIN, “The US is the world’s strongest power, and a statement on the status of Jerusalem will create a sense of stability and commitment to Trump’s election promises. It will presumably say that he is committed to the campaign pledge made to his supporters, and his pledge will be viewed as a commitment of an official intention to move the embassy.”
Last Tuesday, US Vice President Mike Pence said Trump “is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” At the same time, Pence declined to say specifically whether the move would come at this time. Israel’s Channel 10 News says there is still internal squabbling in the White House about what course of action to take. According to the Washington Post, ahead of Trump’s speech the State Department had already notified US embassies in the Middle East to expect unrest.
End of the peace process?
“Even a declaration of Israeli sovereignty without an embassy move would be highly controversial with the potential to spark unrest and will almost certainly produce an angry response from Arab allies like Saudia Arabia and Jordan,” according to Dr. Gershon Baskin, Palestinian Affairs expert and co-chair of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. “The Palestinian Authority says that the move would lead to violence, an end to the peace process and lead to regional instability,” he added.
Israeli TV reports indicate that a Palestinian Authority delegation met with presidential advisor Jared Kushner on Friday, warning that if the White House announces an embassy relocation or declares Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it will mark the end of the Trump administration’s peace efforts. Hamas has issued an even harsher warning, declaring that US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would lead to an “escalation” of the “Jerusalem intifada.” The terrorist group calls it “flagrant aggression” against the city and “a barefaced violation of international law” that must be resisted at all costs and by any means.
Diker says he is not concerned about Palestinian threats to the peace process. “Israel and the US are ready to move toward peace while the Palestinians threaten peace moves, pay terrorist salaries and incite to violence. They have made no commitment to a peace process even before the anticipated announcement.”
‘A nuclear issue for the Palestinians’
Baskin predicts that Trump will sign the embassy waiver, but his statement on Jerusalem will cause instability and will “knock any chance for a renewed peace process right out of the water.” Baskin described Jerusalem as “a nuclear issue for the Palestinians that would be a likely game changer.”
Marc Zell, head of Republicans in Israel, told WIN that Trump wants his statement this week to gain maximum impact as a major departure from the policy of the Obama administration. “The President wants to prove that he is the most pro-Israel president, was the first to visit Israel in his first term in office, the first to visit the Western Wall and now the first to declare Jerusalem as the Israeli capital,” Zell said.
Zell does not believe the embassy move is imminent. The president will eventually order the move, he says, but for the time being he is likely to sign the new waiver in order to keep the Sunnis aboard with the peace process. But he can, for the first time in history, officially recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. This is huge and he may repeat his comment that ‘United Jerusalem’ is the Israeli capital. The practical effects could include things like registering Jerusalem births as “born in Israel,” and having the Jerusalem consulate report directly to the Israeli embassy rather than to the State Department, as it does today.
“It’s similar to how Trump lambasted the Iran deal without yet cancelling it. It’s a gradual movement toward the ultimate goal,” Zell said.