U.S. embassy move in Israel would delay peace

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Jake Baum
For the Mitzpeh
@JakeatUMD

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Since his inauguration in January, President Donald Trump has left a trail of broken campaign promises in his wake. His plan to build a wall on the southern border at Mexico’s expense ended up sticking Americans with the bill instead, and most Americans didn’t even want it. He promised to develop a plan to defeat ISIS in 30 days, yet it’s been over 100 days with no end in sight. He promised to release his tax returns after the election, but now it looks like that won’t be happening at all.

But there’s a silver lining that comes with Trump’s tendency to make promises he won’t keep, especially when it comes to the highly polarized Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference last year, Trump assured thousands of pro-Israel voters, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” Trump’s pick for the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was even more hardline on the issue, essentially ensuring that the administration would consider moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a priority. This was one of the biggest concerns regarding Trump’s nomination of Friedman.

This promise to move the embassy was so significant because it would involve breaking with previous administrations’ precedent to waive the act in 1995, which was passed in Congress to carry out the action. Even the day before his inauguration, Trump asserted that he would keep his promise on the issue.

Just a few days after the inauguration, however, Trump made a rare, deliberative choice to step back from the issue. In his very first press conference, Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the administration could not even commit to moving the embassy within its first term.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

For the sake of Israeli-Palestinian peace and the restoration of bilateral negotiations in the region, this was a campaign promise that needed to be broken. After Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas expressed his disapproval with Trump’s assurance that the American embassy would be moved to Jerusalem, Trump’s refusal to commit to the move portrayed him as an arbiter removed from the conflict and dedicated to peaceful negotiation.

In meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, Trump proved his rarely-observed ability to step back from the issue and maintain a relatively neutral stance in both cases. He balanced well on the line between praise and criticism with both Abbas and Netanyahu. His persona as a negotiator and a dealmaker proved useful in convincing both parties that the U.S. would be dedicated to bilateral concessions in order to achieve lasting peace, bringing settlements into the conversation and sounding more like former President Barack Obama than he had hoped.

Yet, the administration still hasn’t made up its mind. Ahead of his visit to Israel, Trump continues to waver on the embassy question.

For hardline Republicans who hoped that Trump’s stance on Israel would represent a more-dedicated, stark contrast to that of the Obama administration, the refusal to commit to moving the embassy marked an unexpected wake-up call. But for top Israeli and Palestinian officials, this new American assurance for peace over partiality presents a level playing field for which both sides can get on board.

This broken promise could be an opportunity for the U.S. and the Middle East alike. But de-escalation of the conflict is essential. With 69 years of tension in the region to fuel Palestinian and Israeli skepticism, will Trump be the unlikely force to diffuse that tension?

Jake is a senior international business major. He can be reached at jakebaum1@gmail.com.

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