President-elect Donald Trump has made a pledge that several US presidential candidates have in the past, but never delivered on- he swore to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both made the same promise years ago, only to back out once seated in the White House. Knowing Donald, however, he may actually keep his vow – and this idea doesn’t thrill the Palestinians in the region one bit.
On Friday, a senior Palestinian official warned that this action would kill any prospects for peace with Israel. Saeb Erakat, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, made the fearsome statement just after Trump nominated David Friedman as ambassador to Israel. Friedman is a hard-nosed, pro-Israel supporter who has advocated for building Jewish-only settlements and moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Erakat said Jerusalem was an issue to be discussed between Israel and the Palestinians, who want the city as a capital of a future sovereign nation. American administrations in the past have always tread lightly on this topic, avoiding the formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. If Trump follows through with the relocation of the embassy, Muslims on a global scale would be furious. Jerusalem is a sacred location to all Abrahamic religions, including Islam, Christianity, and the Jewish faiths.
“No one should take any decisions which may preempt or prejudge [negotiations] because this will be the destruction of the peace process as a whole,” said Erakat, according to a transcript. Erakat said he would like to speak with Trump and Friedman directly and tell them “if you were to take these steps of moving the embassy and annexing settlements in the West Bank, you are sending this region to more chaos, lawlessness, and extremism.”
Naturally, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved of Friedman’s appointment as ambassador to Israel – the two men seem to be cut from the same cloth. According to the Israeli website Ynet, Netanyahu and several members of his conservative government are satisfied with the decision. The Israeli Prime Minister didn’t have the best relationship with current US President Barack Obama, who openly supported peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller said that the president “remains firmly committed” to the relocation effort, but that it was “premature” to present timing on any actions that will take place.
In Thursday’s announcement to appoint Friedman as ambassador, he said he looked forward to performing the duties “from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.” It looks like Friedman is taking Trump’s promise to heart. In the past, Friedman has also insulted liberal Jewish Americans who support a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, calling them “worse than kapos.” Kapos were Jews in concentration camps during World War 2 who were appointed by Nazis to oversee their fellow prisoners. Friedman essentially referred to liberal Jews as the “Uncle Toms” of their faith.
Trump will be able to decide whether or not to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because of a law signed by Bill Clinton. He will have to make his choice within his first six months in office. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 declares that the embassy be moved from Tel Avid to Jerusalem, or face a cut in state department funding. The law also allows the sitting president to delay the move to protect national security, which has been the go to reason used by current and former US administrations.
Dennis B. Ross, a Middle East envoy who advised many presidents, including Barack Obama, said that the risks would outweigh the rewards. “Every president who reversed his campaign promise did so because he decided not to take the risk. Jerusalem has historically been an issue that provoked great passions, often as a result of false claims – that did trigger violence,” Ross warned.
The conflict in Israel has been at the forefront of the world stage for years. Human Rights Watch, a global human rights organization, has reported that Israel enforces severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights. Excessive force against Palestinian protesters and critics of Israel is commonplace. Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization, has deployed their security forces in the past to torture and kill pro-Israel supporters. During their 50 day conflict in Gaza in 2014, both Hamas and Israeli forces were accused of committing war crimes. The UN Human Rights Council conducted an inquiry after the violence ended, and found that 2,250 Palestinians and 67 Israelis lost their lives in the battle.
Will there ever be peace in the Middle-East? With the incoming US administration openly backing one side in Israel, it certainly doesn’t seem like it. As is to be expected, the American people are split on how the US should handle its relationship with the Israelis and Palestinians. Conservatives have generally taken a pro-Israel stance and supported the idea that the nation should be able to defend itself against acts of terrorism. Liberals express sympathy for the constant suffering of Palestinians in Israel, citing the countless acts of abuse and oppression faced by the Islamic minority in the state. If Trump decides to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, the statement this action would make will be loud and clear: America is siding with Israel.