President Trump has until Dec. 4 to sign a waiver delaying a move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for the second time in his presidency. In his 2016 campaign, he vowed to move it. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration has until Dec. 4 to sign a waiver that delays moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months. Every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has signed it twice a year after Congress passed a bill in 1995 that called for the mission to be relocated. They have cited national security concerns and the potential for an embassy move to upset a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel sees Jerusalem — both east and west — as its undivided eternal capital, citing spiritual and historic claims dating back to the Bible. After the Jews were largely expelled, the city remained under Muslim rule for 1,300 years, until the end of World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. It was then placed under British mandate. In 1947, after Britain announced its withdrawal, the U.N. General Assembly voted to partition the territory into Arab and Jewish states make Jerusalem a corpus separatum - or "separated body" - with special international status, but that never happened. Instead, the city was divided.

Palestinians were expelled or fled neighborhoods in West Jerusalem during Israel’s 1948 war of independence, when Jewish communities were also displaced from the Old City and East Jerusalem. Following the 1967 war, Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan and annexed the area, a move considered illegal by the United Nations. East Jerusalem it is still largely Arab, and Palestinians hope to see it as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Given the controversy surrounding the city, no foreign embassies are located in Jerusalem. However, President Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem during his campaign. A U.S. official said the administration is “seriously considering options” but that no final decision has been made yet. Unconfirmed press reports have said that instead of moving the embassy, the United States may recognise Jerusalem - or go as far as calling it the “undivided” capital of Israel. Coming at a time when the administration is attempting to craft a peace plan, it could be particularly contentious.


A "super moon" rises above the Old City of Jerusalem with its distinctive golden Dome of the Rock on the the Noble Sanctuary, or Temple Mount, on Nov. 14, 2016. Behind is the Arab neighborhood of the Mount of Olives. EPA/JIM HOLLANDER

Here is what some Israelis and Palestinians think of the rumblings:

QAIS ABDUL KARIM, Palestinian Legislative Council member

What would a move of the U.S. Embassy move mean for Palestinians?

I understand there is no such decision yet, so I can only see this as a gesture of continued blackmail in order to press Palestinians to accept demands concerning the peace process and provide encouragement for Israel. It would mean that the U.S. is the only international power that took a position contrary to international law and consensus, which is that Israel has no right to declare Jerusalem as a capital; it’s a violation of the status quo.

What about if it declared Jerusalem the “undivided” capital of Jerusalem?

This would be even more problematic, as this would involve direct recognition of the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem. It would also be recognition of the illegal Israeli move to announce Jerusalem as a capital.

What would a move like this mean for the prospect of peace?

The U.S. will lose its status as a broker and declare itself as an ally to Israel. It will be a complete catastrophe and perhaps a final end to the attempts by the U.S. administration to start a process. They’ve been threatening enough; the threat itself is an instrument of pressure. If they make a real move, it will have a catastrophic impact.

NACHMAN SHAI, member of the Israeli Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee with the Zionist Union Party

What would moving the U.S. Embassy mean for Israelis?

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and we want it to be internationally recognized. When Israel was declared in 1948, some world countries did recognize Jerusalem, and they even had their consulates and embassies here. But after the 1967 war, some of them moved, and later, following each crisis, even more left.

I understand the issue with territories, but Jerusalem will always be Israel’s capital. And what does it really mean if the embassy is in Jerusalem? Why should it not be in Jerusalem? I think every country in the world would expect foreign embassies to be in their capital.

How about if the United States were to recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel?

I think it would be like moving one step forward and then one step back, but it is better than nothing, although less than what I expect to see.

If they want to eliminate all ramification of physically moving the embassy to Jerusalem and go step by step, then it is definitely a significant step, although I am sure the right-wing parties will be upset because they had high hopes about the embassy moving. I thought from day one it would be impossible to move the embassy unilaterally to Jerusalem without doing anything for the Palestinians and maintaining a balance.

What would a move like this mean for the prospect of peace?

As far as I can judge, they mean this to be part of a future plan. In order to attract Israelis to the negotiation table, they need to go with this step or gesture beforehand, but I am still waiting to see what the Americans are preparing for us and the Palestinians.

We still have not heard too much. They have been working and working but not presented anything, and I believe they are losing the momentum.

But moving the embassy would be a good start if it convinces Israelis to be less suspicious and have more confidence in the Americans and a future peace plan. I really hope the next step will be a peace plan or political deal between us and the Palestinians.

GHASSAN AL-KHATIB, political science professor at Bir Zeit University

What would an embassy move mean for the Palestinians?

It will lead to bitterness and frustration on the Palestinian side and give rise to extremism. It would also strengthen extremists on the Israeli side. It will encourage Israeli extremists and enhance the more radical Israelis who will say, ‘Look, it pays off.’ It’s contrary to international law. You can’t be selective as a superpower, if you have to have respect for international law.

What about if the United States were to recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel?

It’s probably worse, but both are bad. It would indicate that from America’s point of view, they don’t recognize the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem.

What does it mean for the prospect of peace?

It complicates the situation in several ways. It will weaken the peace camp in Palestine. [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas has been gambling on a U.S. peace process; this will undermine his position and undermine the moderates in Palestine. It will also reduce if not expend any possibility of a mediation role for the United States, as it will be perceived as too biased towards Israel.

SHMUEL ROSNER, senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and expert on U.S.-Israel relations

What would moving the U.S. Embassy mean for Israelis?

Firstly, it will mean that Israel can yet again have trust in having U.S. backing. I think the most important aspect of such a move will be for Israelis to feel that the U.S. is the great ally and is indeed ready to take action even if it is somewhat controversial in a global sense to show support for Israel. In this sense, it is significant move. Living in a volatile area, having American support is very important to Israel. Secondly, it will strengthen the position held by most Israelis — almost all Israelis — that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel. Whether you agree with the current boundaries of the city or not, keeping the embassy away from the capital makes little sense to Israelis.

How about if the United States were to recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel?

It is better than nothing. It will signal to Israel that Trump is serious when he says that he ultimately wants the embassy to move and he that he is doing it in gradual steps. The language of the statement will also be of some significance. If they say Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, that is not new, that is something they already say. But if they say Jerusalem is the undivided capital, that is more significant.

At this stage, most Israelis get the sense that Trump is a friend of Israel, and if he does such a symbolic thing as making a declaration as a first step towards the ultimate goal of moving the embassy, I don’t see a reason for Israelis to be dissatisfied. Of course, there will be some who say this is provocative and that it might reduce chances of renewed efforts with the Palestinians.

What would a move like this mean for the prospect of peace?

I think Jerusalem is an important issue to begin with. It is thorny and controversial, and I think it’s one of the main obstacles to reaching an agreement. So in some way, making such statement is problematic for Palestinians. On the other hand, it adds a certain clarity to the situation.

Whether this will improve the chances for peace? I don’t think the chances for peace are high to begin with, so I don’t know if that will reduce them further. It will add a controversial component to the American position and will probably demonstrate to the Palestinians that the U.S. is indeed taking a certain side on this issue.

Now, whether taking sides is problematic for the peace process or helpful? I think it will be helpful — better to clarify things now and give both sides time to adjust their position according to reality.


President Trump visits the Western Wall, May 22, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

 

This post has been updated