As inauguration day draws near, U.S. allies in the Middle East, alongside Palestinian leaders and American diplomats, are warning President-elect Donald Trump to forget his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Yerushalayim.
A top government minister in Jordan, Israel’s pro-Western neighbor, said the embassy move from Tel Aviv to the city of Yerushalayim would have “catastrophic consequences,” inflaming religious passions and rallying extremists in the region.
The Palestinians have also called the move “a red line” that would dash hopes for a two-state solution to their long-running conflict with the Israelis.
Palestinian leaders are now pleading with Trump not to do it. They have asked mosques around the world to offer prayers this Friday against the move.
“This is a message of protest,” said Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official and former peace negotiator.
“The call for prayer is to say we don’t accept this,” he said, signaling how quickly the issue had moved from the diplomatic realm to the sectarian street.
The Palestinians also want churches to ring their bells Sunday in protest of the proposed move.
Shtayyeh said that if Trump moved the embassy to Yerushalayim, the Palestine Liberation Organization would consider revoking its recognition of the state of Israel. If such a threat is carried out, it would mark the collapse of the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Advocates for the embassy move say that Trump should not be cowed by threats of possible violence. Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, has said the move would send “a strong message against the delegitimization of Israel and of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.”
In Israel, speculation is rife that a move could happen on May 24, Yom Yerushalayim, which marks the city’s reunification after the 1967 war.
But some U.S. diplomats, including former Middle East peace negotiators, say the move would do little to advance U.S. interests in the region.
“It was and is a symbol of American policy, which has always been that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved through negotiations, and any effort to move it unilaterally would be disruptive and dangerous for everyone,” said Philip Wilcox, the U.S. consul general in Yerushalayim from 1988 to 1991.
“It’s playing with fire,” Wilcox warned. “It would quite likely incite acts of Palestinian violence and terrorism, not only there but everywhere. It would alienate other Muslim states and make our role in trying to preserve some stability and peace more difficult. It would alienate the international community. And all it would accomplish is the goodwill of the Israeli right wing.”
Every U.S. administration has wrestled with the embassy issue since 1967. In election after election, U.S. presidential candidates have vowed to relocate the American Embassy, then demurred once in office.
But Trump’s transition team has signaled that he may actually carry out his promise. Trump’s bankruptcy attorney, David Friedman, the designated U.S. ambassador to Israel, has said he expects to take up his post in Yerushalayim. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called it a major focus.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · William Booth, Carol Morello