US Embassy Should Have Been in Jerusalem for Decades . . . Why Now?

2018-05-14 – Waiting for the perfect day to open the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem was like waiting for the messiah (or the second coming, if you are Christian). That day is never going to come (at least not in regulation time).

Some people have thought that never was the perfect day for this event. Even the most pro-Israel United States withheld its embassy from the legal capital of Israel—until the delay. Why? And why are we suddenly doing this today? Jerusalem was established as the capital of the State of Israel in December of 1949—before most of us were born.

The answer to the second question is that recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has been withheld as a bargaining chip. I’m not sure what the United States was bargaining for all these years. Yes, we’ve had unfulfilled wants from Israel that have changed from time to time. But we have unfulfilled wants from, probably, most countries in the world. Yet we have no problem locating our embassies in Moscow or Beijing or Managua or Hanoi or Berlin. The list goes on.

The purpose of locating embassies in capital cities is not to give blanket endorsement to the policies of each country. The purpose is to locate our diplomats close to the public officials who run policies that impinge on American affairs. This is probably most urgent in countries where we might have a lot of negotiating going on. Like Israel. But this has not been the case.

So why now?

Our fearful leader likes to shake things up. That can be a good thing and I certainly hope that it will be for good. The United States hasn’t always taken opportunities. It has been stodgy. It has  spoken about human rights, but it has defended corporate rights. Around the world. So shaking things up isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If there is an alternative.

In Korea, Trump shook things up with his saber tweeting. North and South Korea saw that the United States can be a real threat to both of them and appear to be taking matters into their own hands. Trump shook things up, but really didn’t have an alternative. In the absence of U.S. direction, the world (i.e., North and South Korea) seem to be acting. Was this his plan? To some extent, yes. If there has been any coherent thread in Trump tweets and campaign rhetoric on foreign policy, it has been the idea that other countries need to pull their own weight. If the Koreas manage that, it will be an achievement—of sorts. “You handle it,” seems to be an element of U.S. foreign policy right now.

But it is muddled.

In Syria, we swing back and forth between “you handle it” and “we’ll handle it.” Either way, of course, will be a disaster for the people on the ground. “You” and “we” in foreign policy has never included the ordinary people who get in the way of whatever army or para-military who seems to be marching in the area.

The Paris Climate Accord, hopefully, will be more like Korea (if, indeed, Korea continues to make progress). Trump said, “you handle it” and the world—including American businesses and many state governments—has stepped up and taken the challenge to continue progress in reducing carbon and other pollution.

So, what does it mean when today, after more than 68 years, the United States is opening its embassy in Jerusalem? Like everything Trump, it seems to be an effort to shake things up without offering much of an alternative path. But that leaves the question: are we getting more involved? Or are we stepping back?

It may seem that we are getting more involved. We’re opening an embassy? But is this and opening move or a final move?

As I said at the beginning, there never was a perfect day for making this move. Palestinians are “rising up” and people are being killed. I put “rising up” in quotes with sadness, because we’ve seen this before without any movement toward peace—and without any movement toward improvement in the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

And right-wing Israelis, led by corrupt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is going nowhere, either toward peace or the betterment in the lives of ordinary Israelis.

So today is not an auspicious moment for an embassy opening. But no day will be.

After today, this bargaining chip will be gone—and we will see that it never was a bargaining chip. After today, the violence will again subside. Things will be as before, except our embassy will be in Jerusalem.

What, if anything, will be made of the opportunity?

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