Israel Needs Its Arab Friends More Than U.S. Embassy Move

Haram esh-Sharif, Jerusalem. (photo: Lubomir Mihalik)

By Eli Lake / BloombergView
December 21, 2016

It’s fair to ask how much worse things could get on the Palestinian street. Still, the Israelis have a lot to lose behind the scenes. Part of this is because of the rise of Iran. Israel and Saudi Arabia, who were bitter enemies for the first half-century of the Jewish State’s existence, today are quiet partners in trying to check Iran’s rise. The same is true with the United Arab Emirates. With Egypt and Jordan, Israel has peace treaties, which explicitly state that the status of Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations.

For the last eight years the American president has approached the Jewish state the way a do-gooder deals with an alcoholic friend. You know the pose: Because we care so much about your long-term survival, we want to help you end your addiction to apartment construction in East Jerusalem.

To put it mildly, Donald Trump has a different perspective. It’s not just that he has nominated his bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, an enthusiast of greater Israel, to be his ambassador there. Nor is it the elimination of language about a “two-state solution” in the Republican Party’s platform for 2016. It’s that the incoming president’s administration is promising to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem after the election.

It’s been the other way since the 1980’s. Usually presidents promise to move the embassy in the campaign and break that promise while in office. Trump looks like he is going to keep his word. As Friedman said in a statement last week, he looks forward to conducting his official diplomatic business “from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

For many Trump supporters this is good news. Dayenu, as some might say. Congress has been on record since the 1990’s endorsing a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Moving the embassy would help discredit those who seek to delegitimize Israel. This was Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer’s argument Tuesday evening at an embassy Hannukah reception.

With all due respect to Ambassador Dermer, this is risky business. Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told me Tuesday before the ambassador’s remarks: “I have heard from Israelis that any sudden moves on the U.S. position on Jerusalem would potentially precipitate a third intifada, disrupt the strategic ties between Jordan and Israel and cause a break in the quiet diplomacy with Saudi Arabia.”

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