The Chronicle recently featured three commentaries on the U.S. embassy in Israel. All favored its move to Jerusalem. On an issue this fraught, it seemed important to present an alternative view.
To be sure, one of the commentaries, by Zak Mazur, appeared to oppose the embassy move. But as Mazur made clear, he was only opposed to President Trump’s getting credit for it, because, as he put it, “I detest Trump.” This, of course, is not an argument based on merits, and can only add fuel to right-wing fantasies that people oppose Trump’s policies merely out of personal animus. Mazur has a right to his opinion, but I don’t think it deserved publication.
As to policy, we should note that Congress beat the President to the punch with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1995. The act recognized Jerusalem as the capital and set aside funds for moving the U.S. embassy there.
In its wisdom, Congress included a provision that the President could waive application of the act every six months. Why would Congress include that provision? And why would three presidents, of both parties, use that waiver repeatedly over a period of two decades?
The answer is undoubtedly that the United States is committed to a negotiated two-state solution. That is still the formal position of both the U.S. and Israel. One of the outstanding issues for negotiation is the status of Jerusalem, and previous presidents felt that moving the embassy would compromise prospects for a settlement.
We will now be testing that hypothesis. Of course, we all understand that negotiations are nonexistent at present. The big question is whether they can be revived. Trump’s decision makes that prospect more distant.
During the presidential campaign, Trump referred to an Arab-Israel settlement as “the ultimate deal.” But any dealmaker knows that you don’t have a deal unless both sides get something. Yet here the author of “The Art of The Deal” gave something to one side while the other got nothing.
Of course, there is a darker side to deal-making, when one party is powerful and the other is weak, with the obvious result. That unfortunately may be a more accurate description of Trump’s history of deal-making.
I’m more interested in what the administration’s game plan actually is. I don’t believe there is one. Trump’s key negotiator is someone whose main qualification appears to be his marriage to Ivanka. Jared Kushner has no background in diplomacy or international relations and has been denied top-secret security clearance.
I am no stranger to the sins of the Arabs. Massacres of Jews, the 1948 expulsion from Jerusalem, the “three Noes” of the Arab League in Khartoum in 1967, the duplicitousness of Yasir Arafat in negotiations in 2000 – the list goes on.
But a negotiated two-state solution is the only resolution of the conflict that can be permanent and stable, and that preserves the State of Israel as both Jewish and democratic. That negotiation will have to include some accommodation on Jerusalem.
A final settlement should mean that Jerusalem is permanently unified, that it is the internationally recognized capital of Israel, and that Jews have rights of free access to the whole city. Once we have that, I really don’t think it matters where our embassy is, or if a second flag flies over the City of Peace.
Jay Beder is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.