Trump: ‘Too early’ to talk of moving embassy to Jerusalem
US President Donald Trump said Thursday that it was “too early” to discuss moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a potentially politically fraught plan that has been welcomed by Israel’s government and sparked threats from the Palestinians and parts of the Arab world.
“I don’t want to talk about it yet. It’s too early,” Trump told Fox News pundit Sean Hannity in a far-ranging interview from the White House that also touched on banning refugees, his plan for a wall along the Mexican border and his support for a return to the use of torture.
The president on Thursday also declined to discuss his reported freeze on a $221 million transfer to the Palestinian Authority that his predecessor Barack Obama quietly authorized in the final hours of his administration on January 20.
“We’re going to see what happens,” Trump said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
The Trump administration informed the PA earlier this week that it was freezing the transfer, Palestinian sources said, while the State Department said it would examine the payment and could make adjustments to ensure it comports with the new government’s priorities.
In his interview, Trump also touted Israel’s West Bank security barrier as an example of a successful deterrent to unlawful entry into a country. Israel built the barrier — a combination of fence, concrete wall and sophisticated sensors — in response to the massive wave of deadly Palestinian terrorism that hit the country during the Second Intifada at the start of the millennium, with suicide bombers traveling the short distances into Israel to carry out murderous attacks, and it saw a dramatic fall in suicide bombings.
“The wall is necessary,” Trump said. “That’s not just politics, and yet it is good for the heart of the nation in a certain way, because people want protection and a wall protects. All you’ve got to do is ask Israel. They were having a total disaster coming across and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage.”
The president also praised an upswing in relations with Israel, which he said had occurred the moment he was sworn in last Friday.
The relationship “was repaired as soon as I [took office],” he said, referring to the notoriously rocky ties between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Israel has been treated very badly; we have a good relationship.”
Arab and Western leaders have warned of an “explosion” should Trump make good on his campaign promise to relocate the embassy, with some Palestinians officials calling it a declaration of war, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warning he might revoke recognition of Israel. While the White House has already lowered expectations that the move may be in the immediate offing — with press secretary Sean Spicer saying earlier this week that “there’s no decision” on the issue — the matter has continued to prompt near daily condemnations and warnings from some Arab leaders.
However, an IDF intelligence officer said Thursday that while the PA might see the proposed transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a “declaration of war,” average Palestinians don’t seem as aggravated by the notion.
The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity as per army regulations, said the conversation on the Palestinian street revolves more around internal problems.
“The facts don’t show that there’s a big trend here” of Palestinians fretting about the move, the IDF Central Command officer told reporters.
“The daily conversation in the West Bank is mainly about the electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip, not the embassy,” he said.
Many Israeli elected officials have expressed enthusiasm for the move, which they say would constitute official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Jerusalem is the site of the Temple Mount and Western Wall, Jerusalem’s holiest sites, and home too to numerous central Christian and Muslim sites, and is claimed by Israel as its capital. Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Old City in the 1967 war, and annexed the area in a move not recognized internationally.
Today, even Israel’s allies do not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, saying the issue must be subject to negotiations with the Palestinians, who have claimed East Jerusalem as capital of a future state.
Palestinians have hinted that such a move would result in violence.
PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Thursday repeated the Palestinians’ threat to “revoke” their recognition of Israel if embassy is moved.
“In our opinion moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a declaration of war against Muslims,” Fatah Central Committee member and Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub told The Times of Israel in an interview earlier this week.
“We are talking about a dangerous step that won’t bring stability to the ground,” he continued, adding that “it contradicts previous United Nations resolutions and the policy of the United States since 1967.”
The Jordanians, who have remained diplomatically engaged in issues surrounding Jerusalem, have also spoken out against the proposed move.
In a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan said earlier this week that such a step would be “crossing a red line.” (the Times of Israel)
Netanyahu reaffirms support for US embassy move after claim he sought delay
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified on Sunday that the Israeli government holds the position that the US embassy in the country should be located in Jerusalem.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, the premier’s remarks came amid accusations that Israel had urged new US President Donald Trump to delay fulfilling his pledge to move the American mission in Israel from Tel Aviv to the capital.
“I would like to clarify unequivocally that our position – now and at all times – has always been that the US embassy should be here in Jerusalem,” he stated.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and not only should the American embassy be in Jerusalem, but all embassies should be moved here, and I believe that in due time they will all reach Jerusalem,” Netanyahu added.
The primer minister’s remarks came after Marc Zell, the co-chairman of the Republicans Overseas Israel group, indicated that Netanyahu had urged Trump to delay the process of moving the embassy.
“Before the election he [Trump] said that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem. Then he spoke to Bibi [Netanyahu]. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly the White House said ‘we’ll think about it’ and that same week Israel announced the construction of 2,500 new settlement units and the response from Washington was extraordinary – quiet,” Zell told Army Radio on Sunday morning.
(Donald Trump at AIPAC conference in March 2016: Will veto anti-Israel moves at UN, move US embassy to Jerusalem)
“Once there is a green light from Jerusalem, the embassy will undoubtedly move,” said the leader of the Israeli chapter of Republicans Abroad.
“We must close the Jerusalem consulate and change the sign there to read ’embassy,'” he added.
Once committed to quickly moving America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Trump administration has recently turned to express caution, promising only to review the matter extensively and in consultation with “stakeholders” in the conflict.
That deliberative process tracks closely with the policy evolutions of two prior presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who also campaigned on a pledge to move the embassy. Both ultimately reversed course while in their first terms office.
Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and other Arab allies have warned the White House of severe repercussions should it proceed with the move, including a review of bilateral relations with both the US and Israel. Arab states have also warned of an upsurge in violence should the embassy be relocated.
In readouts from the prime minister’s office and the White House last Sunday, neither said that a phone call between Trump and Netanyahu made any mention of the embassy relocation.
By delaying the move, the White House buys itself time to weigh how such a move would adversely impact its coalition against Islamic extremists and its plans for a Middle East peace initiative, to be led by the president’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. It also suggests the administration is mindful of the impact such a dramatic act would have on the politics of the world’s most tumultuous region. (Jerusalem Post)
285 terrorist attacks originated in West Bank in latest wave of terrorism between October 2015 and the end of 2016
According to IDF data published today, in the 15 months between October 2015 and the end of 2016, 281 terrorist attacks originating in the West Bank were reported throughout the country. Those attacks include 143 stabbing attacks, 89 shooting attacks, 39 vehicular attacks and 9 attacks utilizing explosive devices.
Attacks originating in the West Bank have claimed 6 Israeli lives, compared to 13 in 2015. 81% of stabbing attacks—the majority of all attacks—were directed at IDF forces.
Weapons seized by the IDF during raids
In addition to terrorist attacks, incidents of stone throwing in the last month have significantly increased, especially on West Bank roads. However, the IDF reported that 826 incidents of stone throwing were recorded in the second half of 2016, which constitutes the lowest figure for this category in decades.
In order to combat terrorism, security forces, particularly the Judea and Samaria Division of the IDF, have upped activities significantly.
Dozens of guard posts have been built, raids conducted on illegal weapons factories, closures of violence-inciting printing presses, seizures of funds destined for terrorists or their families, surveillance of social media sites to prevent incitement, the demolition of 40 terrorist homes and the installation of 1,500 cameras on West Bank roads.
According to a senior IDF official, 2017 is also projected to be a “sensitive year.”
In regards to the new American administration and its effect on attacks, the officer said, “I don’t see a connection between the new American government and attacks yet. When Palestinians become agitated concerning Jerusalem, that can influence attacks, but when we see this, we have time to prepare.” (Ynet News)
Saudi Journalist to Palestinians: Armed Resistance to Israel is Futile, Arab World Has Lost Interest in Your Cause
The Palestinian cause is “no longer a top priority” for the Arab world, a Saudi journalist declared earlier this month.
In an article published by the Saudi daily Al Jazirah newspaper — and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) — Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh wrote that the reliance of radical Palestinian groups on armed resistance “constitutes a kind of political suicide that only political ignoramuses [can] condone.”
According to Al-Sheikh, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the sole option “that can be demanded and which enjoys the support of most of the international community.”
What the Palestinians, Al-Sheikh went on to say, “need to understand is that the Arabs of today are not the Arabs of yesterday, and that the Palestinian cause has lost ground among Arabs. This cause is no longer a top priority for them, because civil wars are literally pulverizing four Arab countries, and because fighting the ‘Islamic’ terrorism is the foremost concern that causes all Arabs, without exception, to lose sleep. It is folly to ask someone to sacrifice [tending to] his own problems and national interests in order to help [you solve] your own problems.”
“All I can say to my Palestinian brethren is that stubbornness, contrariness, and betting on the [support of] the Arab masses are a hopeless effort, and that ultimately you are the only ones who will pay the price of this stubbornness and contrariness,” he concluded.
In recent years, Israel has been quietly developing ties with the Sunni-Arab axis in the Middle East – including Saudi Arabia. In his September address to the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in addition to Egypt and Jordan, which already have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state, “Many other states in the region recognize that Israel is not their enemy. They recognize that Israel is their ally. Our common enemies are ISIS and Iran. Our common goals are security, prosperity and peace. I believe that in the years ahead we will work together to achieve these goals.” (the Algemeiner)
Israel slated to be 4th country to land vehicle on the moon
Israel is scheduled to become the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon, with a launch planned for the end of 2017 by billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
The scheduled launch is also set to send several satellites into space, but the Israeli spacecraft is the only one designed to continue to the moon.
The dishwasher-sized spacecraft was built by the Israeli SpaceIL team for Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition, which aims to promote space technology and interest in the private sector. Thanks to advanced innovation and engineering, the Israeli team was the first to reserve a spot for a space launch out of 33 teams that began the competition. Only five teams remain that have clinched spots on space launches, but all the others are set for after SpaceIL’s scheduled launch at the end of 2017.
The “ticket to the moon” cost the team over $10 million, a sum reached with funding by the group’s two main benefactors: Morris Kahn’s Kahn Foundation and Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson’s Adelson Family Foundation.
After landing on the moon, the spacecraft is expected to take photos and videos of the moon and broadcast them to Earth. The spacecraft is designed to travel 500 yards across the surface of the moon by hopping, instead of roving like other spacecraft in the competition. If all goes as planned, SpaceIL will meet the conditions of Google’s XPRIZE competition and win $20 million. The team plans to use the prize money to promote science in Israel. (Israel Hayom)
Rivlin meets with ambassadors from Asia and the Pacific
Although Israel enjoys diplomatic ties with close to 160 countries, not all of their ambassadors reside in Israel, and even among those who do, it is rare to have all of them together at any one time.
There’s a greater inclination toward regional cohesion among the Europeans, Africans and Latins, Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday following a morning meeting ambassadors from Asia and the Pacific held with President Reuven Rivlin.
As the longest serving ambassador in Israel from the Asia-Pacific rim, Sharma is dean of this 11-member group, having succeeded Prahlad Kumar Prasai, who served as ambassador of Nepal.
Given Australia’s long-standing and supportive relationship with Israel, Sharma and his predecessors have had easy access to high-ranking public figures but he knew such meetings are much more difficult for ambassadors of smaller countries to arrange.
It’s part of the Australian psyche to stand up for the underdog, so Sharma made a decision to look out for the interests of the smaller countries in his region such as Vietnam, Myanmar and Sri Lanka and created a monthly program of meetings with senior public figures who have included inter alia opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor.
Ambassadors, consuls general and defense attaches have an opportunity to meet with Rivlin at receptions he hosts for the diplomatic corps on Israel’s Independence Day and on the eve of Rosh Hashana, but there is not the same sense of intimacy as in the meeting that took place on Wednesday when, in addition to Sharma, ambassadors of South Korea, the Philippines, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Japan, India and Myanmar, along with Nepal’s charge d’affaires in the absence of an ambassador, came to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Absent from the gathering was the Taipei representative, who is the equivalent of an ambassador but cannot be recognized as such because Taiwan does not have full diplomatic relations with Israel.
Rivlin was most effusive in welcoming his guests to Israel’s capital, and was happy to see the ambassadors not only because of Israel’s historic ties with Asia, he said, but because of Asia’s importance in the present and future.
Having initially met most of the ambassadors when they presented their credentials, Rivlin was aware from their individual conversations that their countries were particularly interested in cooperating with Israel in the areas of science and technology, both of which lead to innovation.
He had seen examples of innovation during his recent visit to India, but knew of innovation taking place in other Asian countries and spoke of how much Israel is impressed with what has been produced by innovative Asian minds.
In recent years, Israel has successfully upgraded its trade relations with Asia and Pacific countries, and today, said Rivlin, 27% of Israel’s volume of trade is with Asia and the Pacific. The aim, he added, is to increase bilateral and multilateral trade in the region.
India is not the only country in the region Rivlin has visited in his various roles, and he shared anecdotes of these visits with his guests.
Relating to areas of cooperation, he was particularly proud of the academic cooperation – not only through the courses given by MASHAV, Israel’s agency for International Development Cooperation, but also that between Israeli and Asian universities.
The discussion between the president and ambassadors was wide ranging and included issues such as the Beduin crisis in the Negev. Rivlin conceded that this was a difficult and urgent challenge that must be addressed as quickly as possible.
He declined to comment on President Donald Trump, preferring to voice his confidence in the strength of the US-Israel relationship.
There was also some discussion on fundamentalism and the terrorist threat confronting the world. As he has in the past, Rivlin called for unity and cooperation to fight this scourge.
“We must all stand up and cooperate against those who believe that fundamentalism is the only way,” he said. “We have to be prepared to carry the burden of security which lies upon us, especially in the face of those who do not accept the very idea of Israel as a state.”
Sharma, speaking on behalf of his colleagues said that although the countries represented were diverse, they were united in their support for the security of Israel and the well-being of the people of Israel. They also appreciated what Israel has been able to achieve in the face of the unique struggles it faces, they said.
On a personal note, Sharma thanked Rivlin for making himself available as Knesset speaker, minister and president, as well as for his support for pluralism and equal rights for all peoples.
While some Asian countries are currently celebrating or preparing to celebrate milestone anniversaries of their diplomatic relations with Israel, Myanmar’s Ambassador Maung Maung Lynn, upon emerging from the meeting, proudly recalled that when his country was still known as Burma, as well as afterward, it was visited by Yitzhak Ben Zvi, David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Navon, Shimon Peres, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan among other Israeli dignitaries, and that former Burmese prime minister U Nu, who visited Israel in 1955, was among the first foreign heads of government to do so.
Before leaving for Burma on December 5, 1961, Ben-Gurion issued a statement in which he wrote: I am leaving today for a new country but not a strange one; In all of Asia, there is no more friendly nation to Israel than Burma.
Israel and Burma are two old countries with old histories, which renewed their independence in 1948. Both are democratic and both follow the same principle in foreign relations – promoting friendly relations and mutual aid with all peace-loving countries irrespective of their internal regimes and without injuring the interests of any other country; loyal to international cooperation based on United Nations principles.
It was in Burma where Ben-Gurion learned to stand on his head, Lynn said. (Jerusalem Post)
Palestinian family saves Israeli lives in nighttime bus crash
A Palestinian family notices an upturned bus nearby a West Bank settlement, and immediately heads out under the pouring rain assist those hurt in the accident; ‘They didn’t hesitate or stop to weigh things out. They saw that human lives were on the line,’ says Capt. Sivan Raviv, who arrived on the scene.
It’s nighttime in the Binyamin region. A Palestinian family from the village of Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya notices an upturned bus that had rolled downhill from the nearby road leading to the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Levona. Without a moment to lose, the family heads out while still in their pajamas, and under the pouring rain assist those hurt in the accident, where two people had lost their lives.
Capt. Sivan Raviv, a medical officer in the Binyamin Division, said that the family was the first to call emergency services late Friday night, and that their quick thinking saved lives. “They didn’t hesitate or stop to weigh things out. They saw that human lives were on the line. When we arrived at the site we saw the family members already trying to extract the injured parties and offer them treatment.”
The upturned bus
At that very moment, the region’s complex reality was underscored when a few kilometers away from the accident infantry soldiers from the Kfir Brigade were in hot pursuit of an armed terrorist near the Palestinian village of Aboud, where two shooting attacks had taken place with a 24-hour period. When word of the accident reached them, the soldiers divided into two groups—one to continue the chase after the terrorist, and the other to go tend to those hurt in the accident. Once arriving on the scene, they worked together with members of the Palestinian family to help rescue the injured parties.
Shortly after the family called to report the accident, Magen David Adom, a fire fighting unit, residents from Ma’ale Levona and additional medical teams arrived, and together they managed to evacuate those injured to several hospitals within an hour and a half. “We didn’t give up,” said Sivan. “It was hard to carry those injured on gurneys through the mud, while we fell down, got back up and lifted them once more, until reaching the ambulances and the two helicopters belonging to Unit 669 (the IDF Combat Search and Rescue unit—ed) that were waiting for us nearby.”
“We realized this wasn’t a regular occurrence,” recalled Raviv. “The bus was turned over and completely destroyed. We couldn’t afford to miss any one. The bus was totally crushed. We weren’t thinking of anything but their quick extraction.” (Ynet News)
Minister Erdan announces decriminalization policy for cannabis use
The government is shifting toward decriminalizing – but not legalizing – recreational cannabis use, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced on Thursday.
Erdan said the policy is “decriminalization with responsibility,” which would still include fines, but not a criminal record, for possessing more than 15 grams of marijuana.
Erdan noted that his plan still needs the cabinet’s approval.
According to the “four strikes” policy, after the first offense, a fine would be issued, but the violator would not acquire a criminal record. The sum would double after the second offense, and is someone is caught for the third time, the police could close the case if the offender agreed to a number of measures, including joining a rehabilitation program or having his driver’s or gun license revoked.
After someone is caught for the fourth time, the police would launch criminal procedures.
For minors, after the first strike the youth would be directed to treatment. The second strike would see the offender enter a rehabilitation center, and after the third offense criminal procedures would begin.
“We want to educate our youth that using drugs is damaging,” Erdan said. “On the other hand, the police do not have the right tools to deal with the damage caused by using drugs. For example, police do not know how to deal with people who drive under the influence of drugs. This is why we must have a broad and conclusive policy change.”
Erdan said he has always taken this topic seriously and would not make irresponsible decisions concerning it, decisions made without understanding the policy’s consequences.
“The legitimacy of using drugs has only grown among the public,” he said.
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said Erdan’s plan is far from perfect, but it definitely shows a change in the attitude toward cannabis users.
“I see it as positive and essential,” Gilon said. “For years Israel had an old and stigmatizing policy toward cannabis users that mostly benefited the industry’s stakeholders. It is time to put an end to it.”
MK Sharren Haskel (Likud), chairwoman of the Knesset Caucus for Medical Cannabis, expressed satisfaction, saying her long struggle has finally brought results.
“We won!” she said. “The public security minister, the last objector, announced his support of canceling the policy of criminalizing cannabis users.”
Haskel said this is only the beginning.
“I will continue to fight to change the law and bring justice to a million Israeli [cannabis users].”
MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) said it is about time the country aligned with the West’s treatment of marijuana users.
“They are not criminals and there is no reason that they will have a police record,” she said.
The only MK to speak out against the move was Oren Hazan (Likud), who said he fears the policy will lead to a tidal wave of drug dealers.
“A fine is not like a criminal record, which deters those who wish to take advantage of the situation to earn easy money,” he said. “It is a dangerous policy for our young generation and for the entire State of Israel.”
Senior figures from NGOs that promote legalization expressed satisfaction with Erdan’s policy proposal. The co-founder of the New Liberal Movement said this proposal marks the end of the obsessive persecution of cannabis users.
“Not only did [the prosecution] not benefit anyone, it harmed individual rights and wasted millions of shekels of taxpayers’ money,” Boaz Arad said. “The decision to change the policy is brave, important and promotes Israeli citizens’ freedom to choose without fear of criminalization. It is an opportunity to say it one more time – cannabis users are not criminals, and using it in a responsible way and in a controlled manner is not any more harmful than drinking alcohol.”
iCAN: Israel-Cannabis, the NGO that runs the annual CannaTech conference, which promotes the legalization of cannabis, also welcomed the announcement.
“This change will significantly increase entrepreneurship and investment in cannabis in Israel as the old stigma of criminal cannabis disappears,” said Saul Kaye, the NGO’s co-founder. (Jerusalem Post)
Snow falls on Galilee, Golan and Gush Etzion
Residents of the Golan and Galilee Mountains woke up on Saturday to fifty shades of gay elegance, as the snow that began to fall during Friday’s stormier weather enveloped the surrounding area with a soft blanket of white.
From the Hula Valley in the Galilee, Kibbutz Ein Zivan in the northern Golan Heights and Ramim Ridge in the North-East, the country’s North was turned into a winter wonderland. The city of Safed saw as much as 10 cm of snow, with winds clocking in with a rare 131 km/hour. The Shiryon Interchange saw up to 15 cm of snow. Mt. Hermon reportly saw 50 cm of snowfall, though the site is unfortunately closed to visitors.
Several roads have been blocked due to the snow. The Golan Regional Council reported that “This morning, Israel Paths (the Transport Infrastructure National Company—ed) along with the IDF began clearing the roads in the northern part of the region. The Golan Regional Council asks that residents and visitors drive carefully and adhere to the instructions of Israel Police and the council helpline.” At present, all roads in the Golan Hights and the Galilee have been cleared.
Rain is expected to fall during the remainder of Saturday from the North of Israel to the Negev, with possible flooding in the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. Additional snow is due to fall on mountain peaks higher than 800 meters.
Sunday is expected to be partly cloudy and unusually cold for this time of year. Monday is due to be fair, with a slight rise in temperature, and Tuesday will expectedly have light showers from the North to the Negev, with another dip in temperature.
The stormy weather on Friday caused many tree collapses and power outages throughout the country. One woman in Acre was lightly injured when a power line fell on her house, seriously damaging the structure. (Ynet News)
What Trump would gain from moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem
By Robert Satloff The Washington Post
If President Trump is thinking about fulfilling his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, it is reasonable for him to apply the same test to this idea as he outlined in his inaugural address: How does it affect U.S. interests? Or, in the vernacular, what does the United States get out of it? The answer is threefold.
The first U.S. goal of moving the embassy to Jerusalem is to correct a historic injustice nearly seven decades old. When Harry Truman famously recognized Israel just 11 minutes after its independence in May 1948, he extended only de facto recognition; Washington recognized Israel de jure in January 1949. That step affirmed U.S. acceptance of Israeli control over all territory that it controlled, including lands beyond those defined for the Jewish state in the 1947 United Nations partition resolution, with one exception — the 38 square kilometers of Jerusalem held by Israel at the end of its war for independence.
Ever since, Washington has never recognized a single inch of Jerusalem as legitimately part of Israel — not during the 19 years it controlled what was then called “West Jerusalem” and certainly not during the nearly 50 years it controlled the rest of the city, captured from Jordan during the June 1967 war. This fact was most recently — and absurdly — underscored last September when the White House spokesman amended the phrase “Jerusalem, Israel” in the published transcript of the eulogy President Obama delivered at Shimon Peres’s funeral by deleting the word “Israel.”
None of this has stopped five U.S. presidents from visiting Jerusalem and conducting official business there. Still, the United States has never had a diplomatic facility in any part of the city to represent the United States to the government or people of Israel. Moving the embassy would repair that historic error.
But moving the embassy is more than about fixing the past; it is also about restoring balance to U.S. policy vis-à-vis future diplomacy regarding the city. While the absence of any U.S. representation in Jerusalem for Israel is common knowledge, it is less well known that the United States does maintain a diplomatic facility in Jerusalem to represent Washington to another claimant: the Palestinian Authority. As the official website of the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem states, since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, it “has served as the de facto representative of the United States government to the Palestinian Authority.”
The result is that Washington lacks any formal presence in the capital of its main democratic ally in the Middle East but does maintain a diplomatic presence in that ally’s capital for another political entity that claims territory within that city. It is incorrect, therefore, to say that U.S. policy has maintained steadfast neutrality on the question of Jerusalem so that it can protect is position as an “honest broker.” As odd as it sounds, actual U.S. policy does tilt toward one side — the Palestinians.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was meant to address this problem, but Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama consistently waived its provisions, citing their view that the law intrudes on executive branch authority in foreign affairs. Moving the U.S. Embassy would correct the perception of imbalance and enhance the prospects of Washington helping eventually to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord that, as both sides have agreed, would resolve the permanent status and boundaries of the city of Jerusalem.
The third benefit to U.S. interests of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem addresses a broader policy objective — helping to repair the crisis of confidence among America’s Middle East allies, both Arab and Israeli.
However impressive Obama’s legacy may be on many issues, in the Middle East there is near universal relief among leaders of America’s allies that his term has ended. That is because both Arabs and Israelis believe the Obama administration elevated outreach to America’s adversaries — especially Iran — over fidelity to America’s allies. For Trump, turning a page in the Middle East requires a commitment to restore trust and intimacy between Washington and its regional partners, a strategy he might call “America’s allies first.” Within this context, a decision to fulfill his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would send a message that America’s word is truly its bond. Of course, Arab leaders should not be expected to applaud the embassy relocation. But if the move is explained as part of a strategic realignment of U.S. priorities in the region, targeted toward the “West Jerusalem” territory that Israel has held since its founding, and presented as having no impact on the contested status of holy sites, they would likely understand and not actively oppose the initiative.
Are there potential costs to the embassy relocation? Certainly. Presidents of both parties who made and then broke a promise to move the embassy were evidently convinced that it would ignite such outrage in Arab and Muslim-majority countries and trigger such violence among Palestinians themselves that the costs outweighed the benefits. Opponents of the idea have always cited this argument as though it were a self-evident truth.
Of course, this analysis is not self-evident — it takes ominous warnings by certain Middle East leaders at face value, builds on what is essentially a condescending view of Arabs and Muslims that assumes they will react mindlessly to incendiary calls to violence, and does not reflect a potential impact of subtle, creative and at times forceful U.S. diplomacy. Most important, this assessment focuses solely on potential costs of an embassy move and insufficiently — or perhaps not at all — on potential benefits.
In deciding to move the embassy, Trump should make a net assessment that balances advantages and risks. It is a mistake to focus solely on the potential costs, however real and substantial they may be, when the potential benefits are real and substantial, too.
Trump administration creates new calculus for US-Russia-Israel triangle
By Ariel Ben Solomon JNS (Jewish News Service)
Israel’s relations with Russia remain friendly and pragmatic, yet simultaneously full of tension, in the early days of America’s Trump era.
Following President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric on seeking rapprochement with Russia, his administration signaled Jan. 23 that it would be open to cooperating with Russia in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. A U.S.-Russia deal over the Syrian civil war would likely keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, and would work to defeat Islamic State and al-Qaeda. But an agreement may also leave many issues unresolved. In return for battling Islamic radicalism, the U.S. would be expected to make the concession of allowing Russia to maintain its sphere of influence in Ukraine and other former Soviet states.
A measuring stick for shifting American-Russian ties could be the positive working relationship between Israel and Russia, despite the disagreements in the latter relationship over Moscow’s military presence in Syria as well as Russian support for Israeli enemies like Iran and Syria.
Zvi Magen, a senior fellow with the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies and a former Israeli ambassador to both Ukraine and Russia, wrote this month that it is “likely that measures will be taken early in the new [Trump] administration’s term by both Russia and the United States to reduce the tension between them, including through reciprocal concessions. If this happens, this trend will leave its mark on the Middle East.”
Magen classified Russia-Israel relations as positive, with a number of high-level meetings between the countries taking place during the past year. Israel continues to act freely in Syrian airspace despite the Russian presence in the Arab country, and the Jewish state understands and accepts that Moscow’s interests do not always align with Jerusalem’s priorities.
Yet there are key differences between the Israeli-Russian and American-Russian relationships, with important factors including the balance of power among the nations and differences in values. While Russia is a much larger country than Israel and a more powerful player on the world stage, the spheres of influence of the U.S. and Russia are more equal; although the U.S. is still perceived as more powerful than Russia, Trump argued during his campaign that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader than now-former President Barack Obama.
In his country’s relationships with both Israel and America, Putin’s behavior is dictated by realpolitik and has little to do with common ideals or ideology. On the other hand, U.S. foreign policy has traditionally been influenced by human rights concerns. Trump’s policy, however, could become more realist and transactional—similar to Putin’s way of operating.
Anna Borshchevskaya, the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an expert on Russia’s Middle East policy, told JNS.org that she does not see how the Russia-Israel relationship could be a model for a U.S.-Russia relationship.
“The Russia-Israel relationship is not an equal one,” she said. “Putin is in the dominant position in the relationship. While Putin did bring Russia closer to Israel over the years, it was always for purely pragmatic reasons.”
Russia’s support for Assad and Iran goes against Israel’s national interests, but “Putin does what is best for him to stay in power,” said Borshchevskaya.
For Putin back at home, she continued, any agreement over Syria needs to be perceived as a victory for Russia and a loss for the U.S.
“Putin is hoping Trump will lift [U.S.] sanctions [against Russia] in exchange for cooperation in Syria—this is what Putin wanted for a long time,” Borshchevskaya said, explaining that such negotiations could also result in Trump abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of opposing Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
The Obama and George W. Bush administrations both pursued rapprochement with Russia, but never succeeded, and Borshchevskaya expressed doubt that a U.S. reset with Putin under Trump would last for long.
Israeli-Russian ‘mutual understanding’
Yuri Teper, an expert on Russia and a postdoctoral fellow at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told JNS.org that Israel’s relations with Russia “it seems, for the most part, are handled with mutual understanding of each other’s interests.” But Teper noted that those relations could be warmer if Russia would stop cooperating with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Further, Russia supports some anti-Israeli international initiatives “not because they hate us or truly believe in the peace process, but because they think this suits their goals in the Arab world,” said Teper.
At the same time, Russia understands Israel’s regional perspective and turns a blind eye when the Jewish state carries out airstrikes against Hezbollah in Syria.
Asked how he views relations between the Trump administration and Russia, Teper said that “there is room to find a common ground, but also more chances for a serious conflict.”
“Russia needs America as an adversary for domestic political reasons, and their international activity might intensify exactly because of their aggravating domestic problems,” he said, adding that he can envision a short honeymoon between the two powers before tensions arise.
If U.S.-Russia relations do turn sour, Teper suggested that the Trump administration “could be even stricter in forcing Israel to toe the line in its foreign policy with Russia.”