Donald Trump's Jerusalem Crusade

Sheldon Adelson is about to be paid off “big league” for pumping his billions into Republican political coffers. If President Trump officially recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and/or officially starts the clock tomorrow to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem under the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, it will be the culmination of a concerted effort by American uber Jewish and Christian evangelicals to put an end to the façade of America as an “honest broker” of Middle East peace. A façade that successive American diplomats have tried to sell to the Palestinians and Arab nations like a used car.

What makes this action so Trumpian is the unpredictability of the potential impact it will have on his Administration’s “ultimate deal” making” in the Middle East, and the potential for violence by Palestinians against Israel and against American diplomats abroad.

Trump has been egging to fulfill his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Every six months presidents must sign a “national security waiver” deferring an embassy move under U.S. law, or the embassy must move. In June, Trump deferred under pressure from Arab states and signed a waiver. The next waiver deadline is this coming Monday.

What is so baffling is why Trump would risk derailing his cherished hope of producing the “ultimate deal” in the Middle East when quiet diplomacy among Arab leaders appears so promising? The last thing Arab states need now is to have Trump cause domestic problems for them. Our great friend, King Abdullah of Jordan has a huge Palestinian population to contend with…the last thing he needs is a Trump-induced upheaval in his nation.

And, after all, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been flashing a yellow caution light to Washington that Israel can wait, and most Israelis realize that as much as they are fed up with the international charade denying Jerusalem as Israel’s capital it is not their highest priority. They realize the violence they would endure as a result from Palestinian terrorists hell bent on making Israelis pay a price for far off Trump’s decision. The memories of the last “stabbing intifada” in Jerusalem’s streets are still fresh.

Just think about it: Washington is shoving down Israel’s throat the equivalent of Jerusalem castor oil.

Over the past two days the State Department warned American embassies worldwide to heighten security because of fear that any U.S. alternation of its Jerusalem policy would provoke violence. A flood of pleas from America’s Arab and European allies are pouring into the White House begging Trump to reconsider. Trump’s best European ally, French President Macron, called Trump over the weekend urging restraint in the face of the expected outcry

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. It’s government offices, supreme court, and its parliament are there. The only reason why a U.S. embassy is not in Jerusalem is because the U.S., along with other nations, abide by the shopworn view that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital prejudges final status negotiations involving Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as their capital. Israel long ago declared an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, but the U.S. and other countries have refused to recognize Israel’s declaration until there is a final peace with the Palestinians. It is the most vexing, cumbersome issue in any “final status” negotiation. But when it comes to Jerusalem history proves time and again there is never a zero-sum solution. If there is ever a peace deal, practical ideas will be explored to permit the Palestinians to fly a flag over a building they get to call a “capital.” in an undivided city.

On Sunday, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and de facto Middle East secretary of state made a rare public appearance during which he dodged reconciling this Jerusalem powder keg with his incubating initiative. Does Kushner & team really believe that an incendiary Jerusalem declaration will have a short shelf life and, well, after a few months just die away and enable the Trump Administration to act as if nothing happened.

I wouldn’t bet on it.

It is a testament to the power of Trump’s donors that they care not that Israeli defense officials will have another “stabbing intifada” on their hands throughout Israel and Jerusalem’s streets will once again become dangerous to Israelis? Israeli security forces are already on high alert. The price to pay to get their way.

The diplomatic status of Jerusalem, let alone the status over who or what controls its holy places, is, to put it mildly, a complicated affair. Although the U.S. maintains a diplomatic presence in East Jerusalem that consulate-general is responsible for bilateral relations with the Palestinian Authority. The American ambassador is housed in a dingy sea-side building overlooking the Tel Aviv seashore. No other foreign country maintains an embassy in Jerusalem.

My prediction is that Trump will refuse to sign another waiver, but avoid making a grandiose declaration on Jerusalem’s final status as Israel’s undivided, eternal capital. Failure to sign a waiver will then enable Trump to put on his hard hat and start surveying sights for that new Jerusalem embassy location. Building embassies takes years. It took 20 years for a new embassy in Rabat Morocco where I was ambassador to open from the time the first shovel was inserted into the ground.

Fortunately, to preserve a glimmer of hope for a regional peace breakthrough a new embassy is not a “shovel ready” project. “President Infrastructure” may enjoy surveying Jerusalem embassy designs for years to come since the timing for actually running up an American flag on a building in West Jerusalem is far off.

The unreported backstory to Trump’s Jerusalem parlay has two parts to it:

1. The quiet acquiescence of Saudi Arabia to the decision.

2. The end of the illusion of the U.S. serving as THE “honest broker” between the Israel and the Palestinians.

Time will tell how much Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed winked and nodded at the impending U.S. decision when Kushner was secretly in Riyadh a few days ago while Saudi Arabia’s fellow allies fly off the handle.

But the second backstory is far more compelling. For decades, successive American presidents have inserted themselves into the peacemaking business giving rise to a diplomatic industrial complex dedicated to forging a peace with between Israel and the Palestinians. Anyone who has made the effort has failed, and the failures have piled up like layers of Jerusalem stone.

Americans have struggled every which way to Sunday to curry favor with the Palestinians to accept our protestations of impartiality as peacemakers no matter how much we stood with Israel. It’s been an arduous, ineffective, tiresome balancing act with little to show for it. The Palestinians simply have not owned up to their own shortcomings. As a result, they no longer deserve that herculean effort. The end of that era of American bilateral diplomacy to forge a peace finally came when John Kerry showed how incompetent he was at the task.

For whatever may come of Trump’s actions it may at least finally, finally, send a message to the Palestinians that the long, painful era of America acting as their “impartial” intermediary with Israel, is over.

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