Yesterday, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer agreed with his future US counterpart, David Friedman, that the US should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There are various arguments to be made for this, first and foremost being that it’s something Congress agreed on more than 20 years ago. (This was probably the last time Congress agreed on anything). It makes practical sense, too: the government is headquartered in Jerusalem, so that’s where the US embassy should be.
But there are also arguments that can be made but shouldn’t be made, arguments that are either blindingly naive or disgracefully cynical, arguments that shouldn’t have to be taken seriously but which we have to take seriously because, for whatever reason, people in power are making them.
For instance, Dermer’s argument that a Jerusalem embassy would be “a great step forward to peace” and would “be a strong message against the delegitimization of Israel.”
No, no, no to all this nonsense.
It is true that the state of Israel is seen as illegitimate in the eyes of many, especially in the Arab world. But how would the US moving its embassy help with that?
The US government already views Israel as legitimate, and everyone who cares about Israel already knows that. One needn’t go further than the much-abhorred United Nations to see how consistently the US sends that message, though America shows its support in more concrete ways as well.
And we know that everyone understands that the US supports Israel, not just rational people but anti-Semites and terrorists, too. “There is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel,” said one famous expert on the latter group in 2002.
So yeah, the US supports Israel. If that was the key to peace, we’d have peace.
Instead, we have terrorists who see the US as unconditionally supportive of Israel, and this only further de-legitimizes Israel in their eyes. If the US becomes the only country in the entire world to have an embassy in Jerusalem, then that impression would only be reinforced. It’s not “a great step forward,” in other words; it’s digging a hole.
Maybe if other countries besides the US could move their embassies to Jerusalem, especially Muslim countries, that would help with legitimacy. Until then, a move could only make appearances worse.
The Wall Street Journal, in their own endorsement of Friedman as Trump’s ambassador, gave a slightly different, but still disorienting, spin:
[The] relocation would merely acknowledge the reality that Israel will never give up Jerusalem in any negotiated settlement. It might even help by sending a useful message to the Palestinians that their maximalist claims to Israeli territory are an obstacle to peace.
Again, the move makes sense in terms of acknowledging reality. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, no matter where the embassies are, and Israel won’t ever willingly change this.
But does anyone at The Wall Street Journal actually believe that Palestinians don’t know “their maximalist claims to Israeli territory are an obstacle to peace”? That’s practically a tautology: you don’t adopt “maximalist claims” to appear peaceful.
All of this obscures what Palestinians with power actually say, individuals like Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, who said that if the embassy were moved, the Palestine Liberation Organization would no longer recognize Israel and all previous agreements, such as the Oslo Accords, would be undone.
So there’s no reason to believe moving the embassy would bring peace, and some reason–mainly the actual words of Palestinians–to believe that it’d be detrimental.
In summary, and not that you need to be told this, but there are a lot of things I don’t know.
I don’t know if President-elect Donald Trump will make good on his campaign promise to move the embassy or, if like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama before him, he will renege on it.
I don’t know if Palestinian negotiator would make good on his (non-campaign) promise or if he is just bluffing, as negotiators do.
I don’t know if there are any actual chances of peace at all. (As that Journal editorial says, oh so cheerily, “If the location of an embassy is enough to block peace talks, then there must not be much of an underlying basis for peace.”)
I don’t know if people like Dermer and Friedman are dumb or just playing dumb.
But I do know they are one of the two.