Moving American embassy to Jerusalem perfectly legitimate

The Australian

By Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at the embassy opening last night. Picture: AFP
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at the embassy opening last night. Picture: AFP


Nobody doubts Israel has sovereignty over West Jerusalem. And similarly there is no doubt that Jerusalem is the capital of the modern state of Israel. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is in Jerusalem. So is the nation’s highest court, its national bureaucracy, ministerial offices and the rest.

The US is locating its embassy in West Jerusalem.

The Trump administration has said this decision does not affect its attitude to the ultimate settlement over the status of East Jerusalem.

If Palestinians decide to react to this decision with extremism or violence, that is up to them.

The impulse to move the embassy is not some derangement brought about by the allegedly fervid state of Trump’s mind. Such a move was in the past supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Some of the history is important here. When the creation of the modern state of Israel was decided on by the UN — with the strong support of Australia — a ­coalition of Arab armies attacked the fledgling Jewish state in a pre-emptive attempt to wipe it out.

As a result of this war, the borders of Israel were established. These are the borders which are typically referred to as the “pre-1967 borders”. This always included West Jerusalem. When ­Israel is asked to withdraw from Palestinian territory, no one envisages that it should withdraw from West Jerusalem.

However, as a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

As a result, these territories are called the “occupied territories”. These territories do not include West Jerusalem but the issue of Jerusalem generally is regarded as highly emotive and symbolic of Palestinian statehood ambitions.

Therefore outside powers such as the US have been reluctant to take any symbolic action that might upset the Palestinians.

On at least three occasions Palestinians have been offered a state based on Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and most of East Jerusalem. On each occasion the Palestinian leadership at the time has walked away from the deal.

The reasons for this are complex. One is that any Palestinian leader who actually makes peace with Israel will almost certainly be assassinated by the extremists on his own side. But there is also a sense among some Palestinian strategic thinkers that time is on their side. A few years ago Palestinian leaders could look at the higher birthrates of Palestinians, at Israel’s diplomatic isolation and at their strong support in the Arab world and Europe and feel that time was on their side. That is no longer true.

Israel has not been less diplomatically isolated for decades. It has made huge advances diplomatically in Asia and has a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia and a number of the Gulf states.

Moreover the Arab world has grown tired of Palestinian rejectionism and the frequent refusal of Palestinian leadership even to engage in talks with Israel. Also, given the horrendous conflict in Syria and the strategic advances of Iran, no one imagines a two-state solution is just around the corner.

An enlightened Palestinian leadership would look for maximum co-operation with Israel and maximum economic development on their territories with the hope of negotiating statehood down the track.

The Trump embassy move may help convince the Palestinians that the old rejectionist stance and maximalist rhetoric is getting them nowhere and they must work for better conditions.

To that extent, it contributes to the peace process. Whether it has any beneficial effect or not, there is absolutely no reason in principle or in standard diplomatic practice that any foreign embassy should not be located in West Jerusalem.