Israel's officials have welcome Donald Trump’s campaign promise to switch the US embassy from Tel Aviv, saying it would be as easy as changing a sign on a building. But other Middle East countries fear such a move will not help the overall situation.
Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, has said he is confident that Trump will deliver on his promise to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and has already spoken to Trump’s team on the issue. “Naturally my intuition tells me that it’s different this time, knowing the people, hearing his statements, where we are today,” he said. Both Barkat and his deputy, Meir Turgeman, say they have been contacted about finding a location for the embassy in Jerusalem. A building belonging to America already exists in the neighbourhood of Arnona, which was originally slated for the eventual US embassy. Jerusalem officials say all it will take is a change to the sign on the door.
The US embassy is currently in Tel Aviv, Israel's business capital. Israel classed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, although it’s not formally recognized by the international community, who maintain foreign embassies in Tel Aviv.
Palestinian officials want East Jerusalem as its capital in the event of a two-state solution. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967 and annexed it from the rest of the West Bank. The land grab is not recognized, but Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital.
Speaking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said the relocation of the embassy is a ”very big priority” for Trump. “As president-elect, I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly,” she said. “It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for. It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the sound bites,” Conway said of the embassy change.
“The United States of America has embassies in all of the world’s capitals with the exception of Israel,” Barkat said. “That’s absurd, and moving the embassy to the capital of the Jewish people, to Jerusalem, is a straightforward, standard thing to do.” Conway stated that Israel is a big priority for Trump. “People think it’s just marriage, abortion or religious liberties, and of course it’s about all that, but it’s also about a strong Middle East and about protecting Israel,” she said. “Evangelical Christians always have Israel at the top of their list when you ask what’s most important to them.”
Previous US politicians have made similar promises to relocate the embassy, but never go further than words. The decades-held position of US leaders is to perpetually delay a 1995 decision by Congress to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Obama recently carried on the tradition by citing “national security interests” as a reason to waive the Jerusalem Embassy Act for another six months. Moving the embassy is seen as something that can only happen after there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
If Trump were to go ahead with his plans, it has the potential to cause significant unrest across the region and alienate allies who support the Palestinian cause and peace in the region. Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestine National Initiative, said he was shocked by Conway’s comments. “If the US takes such a decision, it will not only be violating international law, but violating a unanimously respected international principle that no country can annex another’s territory by force,” he said. Adnan Husseini, Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs, stated that “any attempt to move the embassy to Jerusalem will not help achieve peace.”