With little notice by the public, Kellyanne Conway declared moving the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “a very big priority”. The impact of this statement may be lost on many Americans but could have dire consequences throughout the Middle East.
Why is the location of the embassy such a big deal? Palestinians and Arab countries view Jerusalem as part of the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israel views the city as theirs. The roots of the issue go back 2,000+years and the key role Jerusalem plays in the history of both Christianity and Islam. But understanding the issue, doesn’t require a study in comparative religion. A quick review of the last 50 provides the basics of what we should know:
- Israel was established in 1947 by a combination of a UN Resolution and the Israel War of Independence by taking land from Palestine and using it to establish Israel.
- In 1948, Jerusalem was split into two sections. East Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan for the Palestinians and West Jerusalem was controlled by Israel.
- The United Nations stance is that Jerusalem is does not belong to either the Israelis or the Palestinians and should be under an “international regime” that recognizes the importance of Jerusalem to all involved. This position has been consistent since 1947 and has been reaffirmed by the UN over the years including most recently in 2011.
- During the Israeli Six Day War in 1967, East Jerusalem was captured by Israel and subsequently annexed by Israel. Israel then declared Jerusalem its “Eternal Capital”. The UN has consistently declared this action by Israel illegal and void.
- No country including the US has located their Israeli Embassies in Jerusalem as support of the UN condemnation of the actions by Israel. Countries including the US have their embassies located in Tel Aviv.
Enter PE Trump who, if Conway is to be believed, is poised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. This will be seen by the Palestinians and other Arabic countries as the US sanctioning Israeli aggression against the legally established country of Palestine. It also challenges the UN’s ability to establish international policy, law and norms.
After 50+ years, the Jerusalem fiction that is preserved by the location of the US and other countries embassies has not done much, if anything, to help resolve the Israel Palestine conflict. The question is will moving the US Embassy, be the proverbial straw that breaks the fragile back of US/Arab/UN cooperation and alliances?
UPDATE: Trump has nominated his Israeli ambassador, David Friedman. Here’s a short AP story on the appointment and moving the embassy.
UPDATE: 12/18/16 Trump Administration is clearly articulating it’s strategy – US policy will be guided by what Israel wants. Additionally, Trump is getting breifings from Isreali Intelligence.