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Dear Trump administration: Don't mess with Jerusalem

Moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could ignite a spark that would set the entire region aflame. It’s just not worth it.

By James J. Zogby

Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend an election campaign rally, Jerusalem, October 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attend an election campaign rally, Jerusalem, October 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In just a matter of days, President-elect Donald Trump will have to decide on whether or not to make good on his promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As we approach Inauguration Day, liberal and conservative commentators alike have offered a number of ideas as to how he can proceed. Ranging from “too cute by half” to just plain dumb, they should all be rejected. More to the point, all of the proposals I have seen focus exclusively on Israeli concerns, ignoring or giving short shrift to Palestinian and broader Arab or Muslim concerns and sensitivities.

On the one side, there are proposals from hardliners who advise Trump to just go ahead and make the move. They argue that in fulfilling his campaign promise he will appease his base and gain international respect for being a strong and decisive leader. They dismiss Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim opinions, relying on the false assumptions that there is diminished concern across the Arab world for the Palestinian issue or making the racist case that Arabs respect strength and will ultimately become reconciled to a U.S. move.

Then there are a number of “clever” proposals that assume that the move can be finessed in ways that will, in effect, fool both Israelis and Palestinians. One has the new U.S. ambassador living and working in Jerusalem, while keeping the “official” U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Another suggests that the U.S. can couple moving its embassy to Jerusalem with opening a liaison office in Ramallah, while promising to study opening a embassy for a future Palestinian state in East Jerusalem.

No one should be fooled — none of these proposals will work. Those who think that Arabs and Muslims will simply bow down before a Trumpian display of decisive strength are playing with fire. It is true that the region is divided and distracted by the unraveling consequences of the Arab Spring, but messing with Jerusalem would be the catalyst for a focused and unified Arab and Muslim response. There would be massive unrest across the region and demands for a response. Should governments fail to act, it would be provide revolutionary Iran and extremist Sunni groups the opening they want to discredit those governments and further destabilize the region.

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestine may have dropped off the radar for a time, but it remains “the open wound in the heart, that never heals.” Violating Jerusalem and unrest in occupied Palestinian lands would rip the scab off that wound reminding Arabs of their vulnerability and their inability to control their history in the face of betrayal by the West. Ignore this passion and there will be consequences.

The same goes for the “cute” proposals. They will fool no one. Israeli hardliners will not accept a clever finesse. And should the U.S. then push back by protesting that the “move” is real — the Arab side will be as infuriated as if it were real. The lesson is “don’t play with fire if you’re not ready to get burned.” Jerusalem is not to be messed with.

The problem with discussions about Jerusalem in the U.S. is that the issue is largely viewed only through the Israeli/Jewish lens. The Israeli claim to the city and their historical narrative is the accepted framework through which the issue is understood. After the recent UN Security Council vote, American press reports quoted the Israeli outrage that the resolution was anti-Semitic because it acted as if East Jerusalem were occupied territory and not “Israel’s eternal capital.” This claim was presented repeatedly in the press and by members of Congress without rebuttal.

For Palestinians and Arabs the issue of Jerusalem is complex, deeply personal, and completely ignored in the U.S. To be sure, the city is sacred: it is the third holiest site in Islam and it is home of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

But Jerusalem is also the home of hundreds of thousands of captive Palestinians who are economically strangled and denied fundamental human rights. What Israel calls East Jerusalem is actually a substantial swatch of land extending miles into the West Bank in which 22 Palestinian villages have been engulfed. Their lands have been confiscated to make way for Jewish only colonies (now euphemistically termed “neighborhoods”). These ancient Arab villages are now surrounded by Jewish-only settlements and are literally being choked to death.

Private security guards stand atop a home taken over by Israeli settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, February 21, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Private security guards stand atop a home taken over by Israeli settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, February 21, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Moreover, it is important to recall that Jerusalem was also the heart of the West Bank. It was the metropole, housing major institutions that provided education, health care, cultural events and social services for the entire Palestinian community. When Israel closed off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank (and then built the wall further isolating the people from their hub) the consequences were devastating. Palestinians outside the Wall lost access to basic services and employment. Palestinians inside were also cut off, becoming increasingly impoverished. I have suggested that to understand the impact, imagine if the State of Maryland were to claim Washington and all the area with the Beltway as its own and then deny access to the city to millions of Virginians who had previously worked, shopped or received services in Washington.

Because Palestinians have seen how Israel has dealt with Bethlehem and Hebron, they can see the same pattern playing out producing the same future for Jerusalem — a heavy-handed occupier, steadily dispossessing them of their land and rights, establishing “facts on the ground,” and ultimately taking full control and irreversibly transforming the city.

As a result, Palestinians are on edge. Moving the embassy or even pretending to do so would push them over — igniting a spark that would set the region aflame. My advice to the new administration — forget your promises and ignore both the “cute” and dumb proposals you have received and don’t mess with Jerusalem.

James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute. This article is reproduced with permission from lobelog.com.

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    COMMENTS

    1. carmen

      Excellent article. Leave the embassy where it is. Of course there is the other option – no embassy at all. Hasn’t netanyahoo and co. often threatened to leave the u.n.? They should be removed from the u.n. as they’ve done nothing but flaunt their disregard for it. Fine, pull up your adult diaper and leave it. No membership, no embassy. Fin.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      Yes, move the US Embassy to Yerushalyim ASAP. If it ignites Arab Fascism, Israel will deal with it appropriately. The Arabs need to learn that antisemitism is NOI a solution to their problems.

      Reply to Comment
      • Chris

        “Yes, move the US Embassy to Yerushalyim ASAP. If it ignites Arab Fascism, Israel will deal with it appropriately.”

        If you say so, anti-Semite. And if “it ignites Arab Fascism”, you still don’t get your fakestinian jewish state in Palestine, anti-Semite.

        “The Arabs need to learn that antisemitism is NOI a solution to their problems.”

        No, anti-Semite, your “Arabs” just “need to learn” that your “antisemitism” is to you and to your foreign fakestinian zio “Jew” fascist invader criminals now squatting in ha-Yishuv, what oxygen is to your “Arabs”.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Charles

      Well, such a threatning narrative, so not convincing. When I read this article, me who is for a 2 states solution, I got enough of threats. Come on Mr president, move it to Jerusalem and let’s see what they will do.
      They will not do more than already do: try to kill us with everything that they have and they don’t manage.

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      (1) The Arabs had their chance between 1948-1967 when the controlled east Jerusalem to show how liberal they could be because the cease-fire agreement signed with Israel was supposed to allow Jews to pray at the Kotel. They Jordanians never honored that and deliberately destroyed something like 55 synagogues and yeshivot in the Old City and the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. They blew their chance.
      (2) Zoaby (yes, that is his hame, he put the “g” in because Americans can’t pronounce the gutteral Arabic letter similar to the Hebrew “ayin”) certainly misses the irony when he expresses his threat the moving the US embassy to WEST Jerusalem “will set the Middle East aflame”.
      Apparently he hasn’t read the news from the are for the last decade since his it was his brother Arabs/Muslims who set the region aflame with their fratricidal slaughter that has killed hundreds of thousands and created millions of refugees. Thus, Israeli Jerusalem isn’t their problem, it is their own ideology and culture of violence. This problem is certainly illustrated when we keep hearing from “moderate”, Westernized Arabs like Zogby that their first response to something they don’t like is to threaten to kill everybody.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Ike, your spiteful attack on Zogby (and your bit about “Zoaby” is childish) bears no actual relationship to what Zogby actually writes, and is frankly racist. And coldly ignores his points about Israel’s brutal denial of human rights and justice to residents of East Jerusalem. It is yet another example of how right wing Israelis reserve their most poisonous venom for intelligent peace and justice seekers. The “Zoaby” angle just shows that you long to turn all Arabs, especially cool, level headed, intelligent and American-connected Arabs, into fictive, hot-headed “Zoabies” like the “Zoabies” term the vacant Yair Lapid employed to pander to the dumb right wing base. Just as you try your damnedest to turn Abbas into “Arafat.” This stuff is working less and less as the world wakes up and becomes more knowledgeable about what is really going on. You can exploit ignorance for only so long. +972 Magazine is helping to dispel the ignorance.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Antisemite has a specific meaning in the English (and German) language. It has nothing to do with Semitic tribes of the Middle East. It was coined in Germany by an antisemite!

      Reply to Comment
    6. i_like_ike52

      FATAH is threatening to “open the gates of hell” if the US moves the embassy to Jerusalem.
      The funny thing is that the Arabs LOST east Jerusalem when Nasser promised to open the gates of hell against Israel before the Six-Day War. If FATAH and others think that violence is going to get them anything, I suggest they look back at how their threats have worked out in the past. They would lose again.

      Reply to Comment
    7. i_like_ike52

      Rastad Marta-
      “Antisemitism” means “hatred of Jews”. It does NOT mean “hatred of people who speak Semitic languages”. Thus, Arabs can be antisemites. That is why it should be spelled without a hyphen.
      Regarding Salah ed-Din, he lived almost a thousand years ago, his empire collapsed in short order after his death, the Arab world has fallen apart and Arabs are butchering each other in the hundreds of thousands now in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sinai. He is not relevant today.

      Reply to Comment
      • Chris

        ‘“Antisemitism” means “hatred of Jews”. It does NOT mean “hatred of people who speak Semitic languages”.’

        No, anti-Semitism literally means “hatred of people who speak Semitic languages”, and Arabs are by far the largest Semitic group on the planet. Thus, you are an anti-Semite. And toxic self-hating Zionist anti-Semite bigots like you, who hate Palestinians and Arabs and who bait Jews like you do, don’t then get to lecture me about how I should or shouldn’t spell anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic or anti-Semite, which is absolutely what you are, anti-Semite.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Ben

      Ah, yes, but….when they are *not* violent and faithfully help you with security they get absolutely nothing in return and get treated with contempt. Israeli SOP.* Taunts by three Israelis already on this page and they’re rubbing their hands, licking their chops. “Let’s see what they do.” Oh, yeah, you Israelis are ready for peace. There’s someone to talk to on the Israeli side who is not just pretending to talk. Sure. But of course let’s also go to the videotape on “antisemitism” one more time. It’s always good for making the Europeans feel irrationally guilty and getting German banks to behave weirdly and twist themselves into moral pretzels and accuse Jewish Voice for a Just Peace of anti-Semitism while funding judeofascism. What a farce.

      * Two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals. Wars in Lebanon and Egypt led Israel to withdrawals from those territories. Despite all that, the Palestinian Authority is trying to maintain quiet and security for Israelis but receives nothing in return. If I were Palestinian I might come to a disturbing conclusion.
      Noam Scheizaf 
      https://972mag.com/why-do-we-only-listen-to-violence/117773/

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “Two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals.”

        This is nothing short of inciting violence by Benny.

        Moreover, he habitually comes to the wrong conclusions.

        First, it was Barak’s concessions which brought us the intifada and the demise of the Israeli left.

        Second, it was Sharon’s strong response to the intifada and his building of the wall which ended the intifada and showed us how we need to deal with Arab violence. Although at the end, poor old Sharon himself lost his way with his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza which once again showed us what will happen to us when we show weakness. We got 10,000 rockets in response.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          And again after the 10,000 rockets from Gaza, we got relative quiet only after our own bombardments of Gaza not by being meek and mild.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          It’s inciting violence at +972 Magazine to quote Noam Scheizaf? Or to independently conclude what Scheizaf concluded? Do you think before you push the “submit” button? This is incitement:

          ‘Let’s not forget what Bennett said on November 23, 2016, was the first one to incite: “Only those to whom the land belongs are unable to burn it,” hinting that Arab citizens were responsible for the fires.’
          https://972mag.com/education-ministry-still-blaming-arab-citizens-for-arson-intifada/124507/

          Note also how you and Bennett manufacture identical slander about Breaking the Silence. The rest of what you write is refuted by reading Scheizaf at the link I helpfully provided. Of course, you actually have to read it. I really wonder if you ever do actually read the Magazine.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Oh yeah, Sheizaf says it so it must be true. Argument settled according to Benny. But even Sheizaf says this too:

            “you hear it from the Right, Left, and center, as well as from various international actors.”

            In other words, you hear it from just about everyone else that intifadas (violence) pushes Israelis to the right.

            Now, is everyone else wrong? How long have we had a right wing coalition?

            Was there a huge movement in Israel to give up lands after the second intifada?

            True, Barak made momentary extra concessions in early 2001 in Taba but did those concessions quell the intifada? Of course not. The concessions fanned the flames of the intifada. And here is the thing. Barak was not Israel. How do we know? A few weeks later, Barak lost the elections.

            And what was the sequence of events? First Barak made his peace offer in Camp David in late 2000. Arafat did not like the offer and he orchestrated the second intifada. And I say it again. The intifada only stopped after Sharon’s strident response to it, about 5 years later. And the same was true about the Gaza rockets. We got relative quiet only recently after we got a bit more serious about what was happening and we cleaned up Gaza a bit.

            So Benny, just because you can’t think for yourself and Sheizaf says so, it does not make him right. The facts speak for themselves. Like you, Benny, Sheizaf is myopic. He zeros in on small snippets of history and tries to generalize from them. But he misses the fact that Israel’s prime ministers may be our temporary leaders and from time to time they make mistakes. But they are not Israel. How do we know? We know that soon after making those mistakes of making mistimed, misconceived concessions, those of our prime ministers find themselves out of power.

            Does that mean that the majority of Israelis are against peace? Not at all. But the majority of us insist that concessions (only sane concessions) must be made only for real peace partners like Sadat and King Hussain. Not for deceivers like Arafat was and Abbas is. And I won’t even mention Hamas.

            Reply to Comment
    9. Ben

      ‘Their lands have been confiscated to make way for Jewish only colonies (now euphemistically termed “neighborhoods”)’

      Nice example of the routine Orwellian deception employed by Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        I responded to Ben’s following assertion:

        “Two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals.”

        But instead of either acknowledging my argument. Or rebutting it in a logical way, Ben then proceeds on an entirely different tack and launches into one of his usual anti Israel tirades.

        So, what is one to conclude? With any normal person with whom one would have a civilized debate, one could be excused if one would assume that the other party conceded my point and would no longer hold his previous opinion (that intifadas make Israel more willing to give up lands). One could safely assume that the other debater just quietely dropped that dubious claim.

        But with Benny? Not so much.

        This is a typical Benny ploy because he cannot say anything sensible. So what does he do? He side tracks. And the next time the topic comes up, he will make exactly the same assertion about intifadas as if nothing happened 😜

        Give yourself a high five Benny. You don’t disappoint.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Au contraire, mon calomniateur. Telling me I “incite” is big league sidetracking and slander.

          Your replies oddly assume you were persuasive and everyone should automatically agree with you. I found that you were not. Scheizaf on the other hand, persuades. He persuades that two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals. And I don’t have to spell it out for you. What you miss, willfully or out of obtuseness I can’t say, is the zigzagging, shift-right-shift-back-left pattern Scheizaf delineates. In this paragraph there are at least three zigs and three zags:

          “Israel gave up on the Peres-Hussein London Agreement in 1987, which would have transferred partial responsibility for the occupied Palestinian territories back to Jordan’s King Hussein, leaving the PLO out of the process. Only six years later, Israel recognized the PLO and accepted Arafat back to historic Palestine. It was the First Intifada that made the difference. At the beginning of the uprising, the Israeli public shifted to the right, but after four years it elected Rabin on a peace platform. A similar process took place after the Second Intifada: Israelis broke right and chose Ariel Sharon, but the Israeli government then disengaged from Gaza; Sharon’s successor presented the Palestinians with the most far-reaching proposal to date.”

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Yes Benny-leh. But what territories did we withdraw from? Gaza? I already addressed that one. And what stopped the intifidas and the rockets? Was it our withdrawals? Or was it stern military action by us? And where is the mass movement in Israel demanding withdrawals?

            Oh and where did our lefties disappear to?

            Facts versus Sheizaf and you, Benny-leh. Facts are a pesky things aren’t they, Benny? They tend to mug fantasies don’t they?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            About the zigs and the zags which Benny is talking about. There is some truth to that but unerringly he draws the wrong conclusions from it.

            Most human endeavour involves zigging and zagging. It isn’t often that significant goals are reached by a straight line path. So yes, Israel’s leaders and even public opinion did some zigging and zagging (as Benny said).

            But as usual, Benny deliberately or otherwise misses the trend line. I refer to my previous posts which outline the long term effects of violence and intifadas by the Arabs.

            Fact: Israeli politics moved from favoring left wing policies towards the right.

            FACT: At one stage Israel had a huge peace camp. It has withered and most of us turned into a bunch of cynics.

            Why? Because we saw in front of our eyes what poor results we were getting in return for making gestures and concessions. And we also saw that we get much better results when we respond to Arab violence by fighting fire with fire.

            That is the point that I have been making to counter Benny’s suggestion that perhaps the Palestinians would be better off triggering another intifada because that “always” makes Israel more willing to make concessions.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Another eternally self-righteous, self-deluding premise of the Right: “Oy!, we were so generous!, such concessions!”
            Obviously I think the Palestinians should stick to disciplined non-violence. Violent protest is exactly what Israel wants. But Israel at the same time deliberately provokes violent tactics (e.g., with undercover operatives dressed as Palestinians egging on stone throwers it then shoots in the thigh to subdue) and Israel violently, quite brutally, shuts down any and all non-violent protest immediately. In fact Israel has developed this shutting down into a science. With the help of its military-industrial-university complex. While complaining about boycotts. And while getting a special pass no one else gets, for particular historical reasons it shamelessly exploits:
            The world’s blatant double standard – in Israel’s favor
            http://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor

            It’s a difficult problem.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Tell me Benny: are you taking something for what appears to be your schizophrenia?

            One minute Benny is on about how intifadas induce Israel to make concessions. Even though Barak’s concessions preceded the intifada. The next minute you belittle those concessions.

            Ok but once again you changed the subject because the facts stumped you. And here are the facts:

            The long term effects of Arab violence, in spite of Israeli concessions, has been a shift to the political right by Israelis and the hardening of our position. And the peace camp has shrunk. But you advocate more violence by Arabs, Benny?

            Ok then, go for it. We will just see what will happen. We don’t want violence but if you bring it on, we won’t be pleading for mercy. We will fight fire with fire. But remember this, Benny darling. Violence has never paid off for you people. It has brought you too only misery and unhapiness. Violence is a tool of fools. But if you guys want to act like fools again then we can be foolish too and use similar tools but more effectively. Of course there will be suffering on both sides but if you insist, then we have no choice. Your hissy fits (violence) will not induce us to surrender. We know that concessions in the face of violence never worked for us in the past, so there will be no more concessions. Those prime ministers who made those mistakes are no longer our prime ministers. Aren’t you sad, Benny?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            He pulls out the ultra-hackneyed “are you taking your meds” troll speech! Only you could follow “Obviously I think the Palestinians should stick to disciplined non-violence” with “you advocate more violence by Arabs, Benny?” Moron. (That’s French for “moron.”)

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Moron. (That’s French for “moron.”)”

            Ouch, Benny-leh, steady on, old chap! Calling me a moron hurts my feelings 😅

            Now let me demonstrate Benny’s schizophrenic thought process. First Benny said this:

            “Two intifadas increased Israeli willingness to make territorial withdrawals.”

            Then Benny says this:

            “But Israel at the same time deliberately provokes violent tactics (e.g., with undercover operatives dressed as Palestinians egging on stone throwers it then shoots in the thigh to subdue)”

            Now, Benny, please make up your mind (have you got one?). Which is it? Do we give in, once we are confronted by Arab violence? I mean that would be a good thing for Arabs, if we would, wouldn’t it? It would encourage them to initiate more violence, wouldn’t it?

            Or, do we encourage violence, Benny-leh? But why would we, if what you said in the first place would be true?

            Presumably, according to you, we encourage violence because we want to make more concessions? Only a feverish brain like yours could promote such diametrically conflicting views Benny.

            Go take your medications.

            Reply to Comment
    10. R5

      Big surprise, Zogby is happy to destroy the Democratic Party for Palestine’s sake – not sure why progressives are letting BLM, BDS and other wacko causes doom healthcare reform, drug policy reform and other issues that are actually important to Americans. If Ellison is elected they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for the victory of Trumpism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Hilarious. BDS is responsible for the failure of healthcare and drug policy reform under Trump! And he hasn’t even been sworn in! I knew the futile efforts to blame the Democrats for what will be Trump’s and the Republicans’ accelerating failures would start early but this is truly funny. The Republicans own it now. And watch, when Trump fails he will get especially dark and nasty and paranoid and the scapegoating of minorities will come thick and fast.
        And the election of the utterly decent Ellison is a victory for Trumpism? Wow.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Noel Field

      It’s natural for the embassy to be in the Capitol, ירושלים

      Reply to Comment
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