Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem: What is Gained?

An American embassy hasn’t been the source of this much ire since 1979. While the opening of an embassy is usually a stolid diplomatic occasion, filled with polite goodwill and handshakes between dignitaries, the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem was anything but. At best contentious and at worst (and it was indeed one of the worst things to happen to the Palestinian cause in a while) incendiary, dangerous and questionable, the embassy move was a black eye to all Palestinians, particularly those just a few miles way protesting in what is being called the “Great March of Return.” In short, the embassy opening was a political, diplomatic and security disaster and it begs the question: what good does it achieve?

npr palestinian flags
Palestinian flags attached to balloons by Gazans. Photo sourced from NPR h

 

The United States passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act over 20 years ago, which called for moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yet the Act was not fulfilled until President Donald Trump made good on a campaign promise of “moving the [US] embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people” (Israel claims that Jerusalem is its capital). The embassy was finally moved on May 14th, the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. While it may have been a “great day for Israel,” as Trump tweeted, the decision has drawn protests from Palestinians, who claim Jerusalem is the capital of any future Palestinian state. Anger over the new embassy has helped fuel the “Great March of Return” protests in the Gaza strip, where Palestinians have been gathering along the Israel-Gaza border fence to demand the right for all refugees to return to their land.

The moving of the embassy may have helped further cement Israeli-US relations, but that appears to be all that it has achieved. From a diplomatic standpoint, it has tarnished the US status as a peace broker for the Palestine Question: how can Palestine trust the US when the country has only helped solidify Israel’s claims to legitimacy? The US can no longer be seen as a neutral player if it is blatantly showing its bias and supporting actions that only benefit one side of the conflict.

Moving the embassy has caused backlash and tension with other countries, who have criticized the move, stating that it harms the two-state solution. The move is indeed a black eye for the two-state solution as the US is one of the key players in the peace process. Legitimizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel undermines the idea of a Palestinian state and any hope for return to ancestral Palestinian lands. By stating that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the US erases the Palestinian past and future. How can two states lay claim to the same city as their capital?

French President Emmanuel Macron recently commented, “We should avoid escalating the tension in the region.” While the move may not stir other Arab governments into action, it will certainly fan unrest in the Palestinian territories–and among those who fervently disagree with Israel and the US. Following Trump’s announcement that the embassy would move, several rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel, which resulted in Israeli rocket fire and two deaths. Trump’s message of “May there be peace,” which was part of a video played for the audience that gathered at the embassy at the opening, was thus a little out of touch with reality.

Indeed, the new US embassy has so far brought nothing but bloodshed and protests. On opening day, Israeli forces at the Gaza fence killed almost 60 Palestinians and thousands were injured. Palestinians’ lives, rights and dignity are at risk more than ever. Over 1,000 policemen were deployed on opening day to ensure the security of the area around the embassy. Deploying over 1,000 policemen to secure an area does not reassure that the environment is peaceful, which brings into question why Trump would want to potentially put the lives of American embassy staff in danger. Naturally, embassy staff work in high-risk locations around the world; but in this case, it is an unnecessary arrangement.

The opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem achieves nothing but a set back to the peace process in the Middle East. Will Palestine choose a different proposed capital? Will it be willing to engage with America at the negotiation table? Will other countries feel pressure to move their embassies? Where does the peace process go from here? Where is the point of return?

S-L-M


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