After many months of hope, dread, and many emotions in between, the day has finally come in which a president of the United States is going to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Or has it?
Contradictory reports have surfaced over the past day regarding whether the embassy will indeed be moved. On Wednesday morning, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that President Trump communicated to the Palestinian leadership that the embassy would stay put for the time being. Later in the day, a senior Palestinian official denied such reports. It seems unclear what actually happened and as such, all we can do at this time is speculate whether the conversation took place, and what it could mean if it did.
Here are a few scenarios about what it may mean:
- Like every American president since Bill Clinton, Trump has decided that moving the embassy is not worth the diplomatic risk and hassle that it will cause. He will have angered many of his supporters both in Israel and in the US. However, he also will have shown that he is much more moderate and practical than originally thought, and gain some benefit of the doubt from the public, other foreign leaders, and the media.
- The reported conversation never took place, and Trump intends to move the embassy as soon as possible.
- Trump is planning on giving the Palestinians one chance to convince him not to move the embassy. During his election campaign, Trump voiced his desire to make an attempt at a deal between Israel and the Palestinians and bring peace to the region. However, unlike President Obama, he also expressed clear support for Israel over the Palestinians. If he brings the parties to the table, he most likely will not demand from Israel a settlement freeze or the release of convicted terrorists, as Obama did.
Assuming that the third option is closest to reality, it raises the question– if the Palestinians think that they are not going to get either a more favorable deal than they could have gotten under Obama, or preliminary concessions from Israel, what incentive do they have to negotiate?
The Palestinian leadership has warned that moving the US embassy will undermine peace efforts and risk the future of a two state solution. They are scared – and rightfully so – that the presence of the US embassy in Jerusalem is akin to recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. Such implicit recognition would make it much more difficult for the Palestinians to lay claim to Jerusalem in international fora. As such, they may be willing to make sacrifices to delay the move, which may be the reason that they might agree to negotiate. Trump could offer them a chance to negotiate before moving the embassy, and they may take it as their last line to prevent the embassy move.
Of course, we are dealing with many more hypotheticals than confirmed facts. But if we’re already dealing with hypotheticals – what if Trump got the sides to cut a deal?! Once you consider the following, it may not be as farfetched as you think.
The Palestinians should be worried now that Trump is president, because nobody will force Israel to freeze construction, release terrorists, or even come to the negotiation table. Resorting to the old tactic of using violence to get what they want will not win Trump over, and most probably will push him further towards Israel’s side. The Palestinians could not get terms that they deemed acceptable during any previous round of negotiations, even under the most pro-Palestinian administration that America has yet to see. As former Foreign Minister Abba Eban said “The Palestinians never miss the chance to miss a chance”.
Enter Trump, a president who is not very sympathetic toward the Palestinians, and has expressed willingness to change the facts on the ground in Israel’s favor. Should Trump be elected again, it is not farfetched to think that he will have recognized Jerusalem as the undividable capital of Israel, moved the embassy and/or even recognized Israeli annexation of certain parts of Judea and Samaria (Maale Adumim for example). The Palestinians may not be showing it now, but even a one-term presidency for Trump could make them very desperate. In order to stop such moves from happening, the Palestinians may even be willing to sign a deal – whether a final status agreement or preliminary (much like the Oslo accords) – even if it is not the one they want.
In order to make someone compromise, you often need to put him in a compromising situation.
And this might be how the president who many feel is the closest America has seen to an authoritarian dictator, may bring peace – or at least a reluctant agreement – in the Middle East.