President-elect Trump’s recently announced plans to have the incoming U.S. ambassador to Israel live in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 already recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and instructs the executive branch to move the embassy or file a national security waiver. With the U.S ambassador to Israel living in Jerusalem what would be the implications for the region if the U.S. moved its embassy to the city as well?
Critics warn that moving the embassy to Jerusalem will spark international protests and cause more instability in the region. Secretary John Kerry warned that “you would have an explosion, an absolute explosion” in the Middle East. The head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas in a letter to Trump wrote that moving the embassy will “have destructive consequences on the peace process, the two state solution and the safety and security of the region.”
By “explosion” Secretary Kerry probably means an increase in the frequency and strength of Islamic terrorist attacks on the Israelis, Arab states cutting off relations with the U.S. and Israel, or Israel’s neighbors declaring war on the country.
Israel suffered Hamas rocket attacks in the past and is currently undergoing a wave of terror perpetrated by Palestinians. It is the stated goal of the Palestinian terrorists to attack Israel. In its charter Hamas promises to wage jihad against the country and the Israeli Defense Minister suspects that the organization is trying to develop new offensive capabilities in order to do so. So Israel will probably continue to see a spike in terrorist attacks regardless of whether the U.S. moves its embassy to Jerusalem.
Arab states will likely issue condemnations if the U.S. moves its embassy, but they would not cut off ties with America or Israel. Middle Eastern regimes need U.S. help in fighting ISIS and finance their own military operations. Given Arab dependence on U.S. aid it is unlikely they would want to jeopardize their relations with Washington over an embassy.
There is no fear of Arab economic boycotts because Israel’s neighbors have maintainedsanctions on the country for decades.
Israel’s neighbors need its help in countering the growing Iranian influence in the region. With Iran and Hezbollah giving military aid to the Assad regime, Israel’s Sunni neighbors might want to consider possible cooperation with Tel-Aviv. In a move that might signal cooperation, the former intelligence chiefs of Saudi Arabia and Israel held a public meeting. If the Arabs want Israeli help then they are unlikely to jeopardize their already fragile relations over the U.S. embassy.
Despite Abbas’ warnings, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem could make the peace process easier. It would send a clear message to the PA that the U.S. considers Jerusalem to be part of Israel. Instead of having our embassy located in Jerusalem U.S. issue waivers that have delayed the move. To the PA this probably looks like America wavering in its support to Israel because the U.S. is failing to keep up its promise. Moving the embassy will send a message that Washington keeps its promises and does not waiver in support of its allies.