Palestine Center Brief No. 311 (February 26, 2018)
By Mohamed Mohamed
Adding insult to injury for Palestinians, the State Department has announced that the US will relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 2018, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence.
For Palestinians however, this date is no cause for celebration. It marks 70 years since the expulsion and mass displacement by force of more than 750,000 people. Much of this occurred in the face of massacres, destruction of entire villages, and other forms of violence perpetrated by Zionist forces. Only 150,000 Palestinians remained in what became Israel. Those who were driven out were condemned to miserable lives in refugee camps, never to return to their homeland. It is no wonder that Palestinians refer to this date as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe.
The announcement is much earlier than what was pledged to the Israeli Knesset in January by US Vice President Mike Pence, who said that the embassy would be moved by 2019. In a press release, the State Department declared, “We are excited about taking this historic step, and look forward with anticipation to the May opening.”
This move will indeed be historic. For almost seven decades, spanning many presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, the official US position has been that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved through a negotiated settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.
Even President Ronald Reagan, a conservative icon and one that President Donald Trump really admires, had reiterated in 1982 the US position that Jerusalem’s “final status should be decided through negotiations.” Until December of 2017, the US, like the rest of the world community, did not recognize the illegal occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967.
Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and its settlements in the West Bank are against numerous UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that the US is a signatory to. Reversing its historical position regarding occupation sets a dangerous precedent that military strength overrides international law. Such behavior, especially in a city like Jerusalem, which is holy to billions of people throughout the world, can shake the foundations of world peace.
Such an extreme deviation from longstanding policy is truly bizarre, especially for someone who claimed to be committed to negotiating “the ultimate deal” between Palestinians and Israelis. How can one logically make such a claim, and then provoke Palestinians with one of the most deal-breaking actions that could be taken?
Actions speak louder than words, and unfortunately, the truth is that the US has never been an “honest mediator” between Palestinians and Israelis, despite all the rhetoric and official positions. Even former negotiator Aaron David Miller admitted himself that American officials have acted as Israel’s attorney at the expense of successful peace negotiations.
And despite its previous position on Jerusalem, the US has always rewarded Israel with generous military and financial aid (including a record $38 billion under President Obama), even as Israel continued to expand its settlements in East Jerusalem and beyond. Ironically, with his recent recognition of Jerusalem, President Trump has simply made the US position more consistent with its actions (or inactions).
But President Trump has gone above and beyond in his appeasement of Israel, and he seems to be trying just as hard to spit in the face of Palestinians. It is important to ask why, and the question can at least be partly answered by the kind of supporters and associates that he has.
Last year billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a staunch backer of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, cut off cash to pro-Trump groups because he was upset about the delay of the embassy move (it is safe to assume the cash is flowing again – in fact, Adelson has offered to pay for part of the embassy cost). David Friedman, Trump’s appointee as ambassador to Israel and former bankruptcy lawyer, along with the family of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, are major supporters of Israeli settlements.
In a recent interview with a newspaper owned by Adelson, Trump bragged that his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was the “high point” of his first year in office. The high point of any US president should not be something done to appease a foreign country, especially when such a president emphasized the slogan of “America first” during his campaign and administration. America’s unwavering support for Israel at the expense of Palestinians and successful peace negotiations will only harm US national interests and its standing in the world, and it only puts Israel first. American voters, taxpayers, and citizens must question this relationship.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.