Peace first, moving the Embassy can wait

In the run up to the impending visit to Israel next week of U.S. President Trump the media is full of speculation on whether he will make good on his campaign promise (and that of his predecessors) to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Decision time is close as the presidential waiver on delaying the move, which has been signed every six months by every U.S. president since Congress passed enabling legislation in 1998, will come to President Trump’s desk shortly for reconsideration, or not.

Likewise the press has been full of speculation of what Israel’s official position is on the matter.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, in response to the speculation, made it crystal clear again this week that he stands 100% in favor of endorsing moving the U.S. Embassy and that of every other country from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.  The Prime Minister is right to do that as it is Israel’s right to decide where its capital is located and thus, in principle, the Prime Minister cannot take any position other than to encourage foreign diplomatic missions to locate their embassies where Israel decides to designate its capital.

However, while that is the correct position for the Government of Israel to take officially, as a practical matter it would be a mistake for the U.S. to make that move at this time.  The reason every U.S. administration in the past 19 years has refused to make the move even though the legislative branch authorized it, is simply because it does not make good practical sense.  Right or wrong, thinking people know that the Arab world has the potential to go up in flames as it were should the U.S. make that move absent a peace agreement with the Palestinians.  The Palestinian street has also threatened disruptive action should the U.S. make this decision under these conditions.  So even though we who live here might see this as what normal countries with diplomatic relations do vis-à-vis where foreign embassies are located, by now we should have learned that we are not a normal country.  That’s why the U.S. has an embassy in Tel Aviv and a consulate in Jerusalem, with Israel being the only country in the world where the U.S. Consul General reports to Washington and not to the local ambassador.

The fact is that nobody can accurately predict what will happen here and in the rest of the region should the U.S. move its embassy.  What we can rightfully ask as citizens of Israel who will need to bear the brunt of the reaction, whatever it is, is whether there is sufficient value in the move to justify the risk.  I think not and wish that those in the U.S. who are so adamant in seeing this accomplished, who are so intent on forcing the President to make this move, would be just as willing to come here and experience the resultant fallout when it occurs.  But my guess is they won’t to do that, will they?

“The transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem not only will not harm the peace process, but the opposite,” the Prime Minister’s Office said this week.  “It will advance (the process) by correcting a historic injustice and by smashing the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel,” it added.   So what?  We Jews do not need the flag of the U.S. to fly over the country’s embassy in Jerusalem to give us legitimacy.  As Menachem Begin once remarked:  “We don’t need legitimacy.  We exist.  Therefore, we are legitimate.”

Often, the practical overrules political correctness.  This is one of those instances.  Better to continue trying to find operational mutual accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians now and deal with the trappings of sovereignty later, rather than possibly causing a conflagration now.

As a fireman friend of mine likes to say, preventing a fire is much easier than putting it out once it starts.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 29 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Immediate Past Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.