Gregg M. Mashberg

Time to move the Embassy

If Mr. Friedman managed to move the embassy to Jerusalem, “the U.S. is declaring a new war on the Palestinians and all Muslim Arabs.”

– Senior Palestinian cleric Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, N.Y. Times, December 16, 2016

Did you get that? Maybe you need to read it again. According to the former Mufti of Jerusalem and current head of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, if the U.S. moves its embassy to what has been Israel’s seat of government for almost 70 years, that would be an act of war against Palestinians and Muslims.

However you view the conflict and however you feel about President-elect Donald Trump and his ambassador designate to Israel, David Friedman, you must face the reality of what Sheikh Sabri is telling us:

Palestinians will not accept Jewish control of Jerusalem – including the Western portion where Israel’s government is located – even if that means Palestinians will live another four generations in stateless limbo, and even if that means perpetual war.

How is it that 20 plus years after Oslo, this is where we are? At its core, the answer is religious and cultural. While it is common among Israel’s critics to view the conflict hyper-simplistically as a real estate dispute caused by Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian lands” and West Bank settlements, the reality is far more complicated and, unfortunately, far worse. The conflict stems from extreme religious and cultural dogmas that abhor and refuse to accept the very notion of Jewish (or other non-Muslim) control over any part of Israel, especially Jerusalem.

That is what Sheikh Sabri is telling us.

Jerusalem is central to the very concept of Israel as the Jewish state and has been Israel’s seat of government since shortly after it achieved independence in 1948. To be sure, Palestinians and all Muslims hold dear the Muslim holy sites under Israel’s jurisdiction and Israel has worked for decades to preserve and protect those holy sites, despite the political meddling, provocations and incitement of the Palestinian leadership. Yet, the international community, including the U.S., has indulged Palestinian insistence that the status of Jerusalem – even its Western environs – remains disputed, only to be resolved in the last stage of negotiations. Thus, elevating deception over reality, if an American is born in Jerusalem the State Department will not issue her a passport including the word “Israel.” It is U.S. Government policy to list the place of birth as “Jerusalem.” Period.

Maintaining the chimera that Jerusalem – all of it – is up for grabs is hardly the only example of the international community, including the U.S., encouraging Palestinian rejectionism.

President Mahmud Abbas insists that Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Palestinians will never give up their personal right of return to pre-1967 Israel. The international community, shamefully and destructively, has failed to insist that, as a prerequisite to negotiations, Palestinians take these toxic positions off the table. Rather, the Quartet for Middle East Peace, including the U.S., has effectively surrendered to Palestinian insistence that these are matters for “final status negotiations” – negotiations that, based on past Palestinian conduct, are sure never to be final.

By treating deal-breaking demands as legitimate issues for negotiation, the international community keeps Palestinian hopes alive that one way or another, and however long it takes, the Jewish state’s days are numbered.

Diplomats will tell you this is all just a charade and that “everybody” knows there is no right of return and the Israelis and Palestinians will, at the end of negotiations creating two states, simply split Jerusalem. Everybody?  Does Sheikh Sabri really know this?  Does Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator who has echoed  the Sheikh’s threats, really know this?  More importantly, do the Palestinian people really know this?

And if everybody really knows it, why keep playing the game when the so-called peace process has been an abject failure? Why not change tact and insist that Palestinians acknowledge the reality of Israel, just like the international community, including Israel, has acknowledged that negotiations are designed to create a Palestinian state? And if the international community is going to continue to condemn Israel for its settlement policies, as it does, why not condemn the Palestinians for basing their negotiating position on demands that are anathema to a real two-state solution?

Why is the diplomatic community afraid to say openly what presumably everybody knows privately? Why is the international community afraid to tell the truth to the Palestinians?

What is this power that the Palestinians – who have been on the international dole for almost 70 years – have over their benefactors?

Enter Donald Trump, and his pledge finally to move the embassy to Israel’s capital. He is not the first incoming president to make this promise. It has been U.S. law since 1995 that the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, although successive presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, after taking office, have suspended the embassy mandate in order to “protect the national security interests of the United States,” as the law permits.

But is it really necessary to America’s national security that it continue to participate in the farce that sovereignty over Jerusalem – including its Western section and even the Western Wall site – remains an open question?

Don’t our policy makers understand that pandering to Palestinian bullying, threats and rejectionism adds a gloss of legitimacy to the dysfunction and encourages more of the same?

It is long past the time for telling the truth to both sides. The charade approach to Middle East diplomacy has failed. It is time to try reality. It is time to tell the truth.

It is time to move the embassy.

About the Author
Gregg M. Mashberg is a lawyer in private practice in New York City, and has been involved in Israel advocacy