The first few weeks of a presidential transition are always a little uneasy. There is often wild speculation (sometimes justified, sometimes not) about how the incoming administration will operate and what its priorities will be. Unsurprisingly, the first weeks of the Trump administration have been no exception. There are a number of topics which could be discussed in these first few weeks, but one rumor in particular seems to have gone relatively unreported. There have been signs throughout the campaign trail that Trump is looking to move the American embassy in Israel from its current location in Tel Aviv to the more controversial location of Jerusalem. This might not seem like a big deal at first, but in reality this could have many unintended consequences. So what's the big deal about an American embassy in Jerusalem?
The controversy surrounding the embassy location is, of course, tied in directly with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As we have already discussed in a previous post, this conflict has been going on for nearly a hundred years (not for thousands of years as many people want to believe). But the main issues involved here stem from the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973. After the 1948 war, the city of Jerusalem was divided into the Israeli dominated West Jerusalem and a Palestinian majority East Jerusalem. During the 1967 war, Israel annexed the predominantly Palestinian populated territories of Gaza and the West Bank, including the entirety of the city of Jerusalem. Both Israel and the Palestinian territories claim Jerusalem as their capital, but most nations have refused to fully recognize this for either side. Instead, these nations (the United States included) have kept their embassies in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv as a way to recognize that the dispute is still ongoing.
So what would moving the embassy mean? Well the Trump administration has already been very vocal about its support for the State of Israel. The president's relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears as though it will be unusually close (even by typical U.S.-Israeli standards). In short, moving the embassy location to Jerusalem would be a clear signal to the Palestinians that the United States no longer views their claims as legitimate. Despite claims that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner will negotiate a Middle East peace, it seems highly unlikely that this could be accomplished with such a toxic political atmosphere. Palestinians have already been wary of American intransigence on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, but this would essentially confirm their suspicions that the United States just doesn't care anymore.
What happens after this hypothetical move is anyone's guess. However, if the past is any indication, the result is not likely to be good for either side. Tensions are already very high due in part to the prospects of a true Israeli-Palestinian peace being so low. In previous cases like this, some of the Palestinians have participated in mass protests and uprisings known as the First and Second Intifadas. As we discussed in out latest podcast episode, the possibility of a Third Intifada is certainly a reality given the current political climate. At the very least, this move would encourage the Palestinians to continue their campaign of taking their claims directly to the United Nations. Though Palestine was recently dealt a victory when the United States refused to block a resolution condemning the Israeli policy of settlement building in the West Bank, it's clear that the Trump administration will provide no such backing to Palestine.
But regardless of where the embassy is located, the facts on the ground will remain the same. Though the Palestinian population was until recently increasing at a much faster rate than that of Israel, Israel's accelerated process of settlement building is slowly depleting the amount of valuable land that Palestine would need to support a future state. Much of the West Bank is partially divided into several sections, and critical infrastructure projects are years away from completion. In all, whether America's embassy to Israel is in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Ramallah, the prospects for a free and independent Palestine remain exceedingly bleak.