The U.S. is officially moving its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem next week, a move which has been condemned by several U.S. allies since it was announced this past December.
In the week leading up to the ceremony, which is scheduled to be attended by a high-powered delegation including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, policymakers are concerned about the aftermath of the move.
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In addition to warnings of potentially violent protests by Palestinians and Israeli demonstrators alike, some experts are concerned that the Trump administration has tied its own hands by moving the embassy without securing any political reimbursement.
“I think, I would throw Trump’s words back at him. This is a bad deal. It’s disgraceful,” said Howard Stoffer, an associate professor of National Security at the University of New Haven.
Israel and the Palestinians are currently embroiled in a decades-long conflict over a region called the West Bank, which is currently under Israeli control. Israel continues to build expansive settlements in the West Bank, denying settlement to the Palestinians. The city of Jerusalem sits on the border between Israel and the West Bank. During the 1967 war, Israel took control of East Jerusalem and annexed the region — though it had been divided between Israelis and Palestinians for the first 20 years of its existence — and calls the city its “undivided capital” today.
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Upon announcing this move, some experts expressed concern about the future of the U.S. as a mediator in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“The U.S. cannot play the role of an impartial moderator in this conflict…Trump’s administration only abandoned the mask of neutrality,” said University of Florida professor Tamir Sorek.
In addition, by moving the embassy to Jerusalem on an accelerated timeline, without requesting Israel to make any concessions or acts of goodwill towards the Palestinians, others would go so far as to say the U.S. has created an obstacle for itself.
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“It would have seemed to me, to move an embassy, you would get something big, like no more settlement construction or no more settlement construction for the next few years at least. We got zero. We got nothing,” said Stoffer.
He explained that moving an embassy is no small thing, and with such a major political statement, it’s customary to ask for something in return. Stoffer used the example of Martin Indyk’s efforts to mediate a two-state solution to the controversial conflict, where the Obama administration extracted a commitment from the Israelis not to build any more settlements in the West Bank while negotiations were underway.
“If you’re gonna do something like this, at least ask the Israelis to make some kind of gesture to the Palestinians of the same magnitude… so they can feel like the United States is playing an even-handed role. This just shows that we don’t have any even-handed role. It’s all 100 per cent Israel, and Palestinians were just left out there,” said Stoffer.
Going forward, Stoffer said negotiations are going to be much more difficult, as Palestinians are already “alienated and estranged” from the United States because of what many perceive to be a pro-Israel stance by the president.
“As a result, I don’t know what their plan is going to contain. I would be very surprised if it contained anything,” he said.
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Moving the embassy could spark violent protests
Trump’s announcement that the U.S. embassy would move to Jerusalem has sparked clashes in Arab states in recent months. In recent days, however, local media has reported that “tens of thousands” are expected to protest the move.
The embassy’s move is to be celebrated on May 14, and demonstrations are slated to coincide with Nakba Day, a national day of Palestinian mourning marking the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding, commemorated every year on May 15, reports the Times of Israel.
“The move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem might not begin a cycle of violence but it might trigger a violent reaction by Palestinians to Israeli violence. Given Israel’s policy, this reaction would come anyway sooner or later,” explained Sorek.
Stoffer adds that Palestinians may protest right on the temple mount and in front of the embassy. In anticipation of this, he suspects there will be added security.
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“There might be demonstrations by Palestinians on the temple mount. There might be demonstrations by some in front of the American embassy,” he said. “It might even be Israelis that will protest on the left, who might say this is inappropriate, that the United States moved too quickly.”
Other embassies could follow suit
In response to Trump’s announcement, several countries declared that they too would move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Once the new U.S. embassy officially opens on May 14, several countries could very quickly follow suit.
“Of course, other embassies might follow. Some countries have already said they’ll move to Jerusalem once the Americans are there,” said Stoffer.
Paraguay, for example, has announced this week that it will move its embassy to Jerusalem by the end of May. Guatemala has committed to moving its embassy to Jerusalem by May 16, two days after the American ceremony.
— With files from Reuters