Palestinians worry US embassy move will counter peace efforts

Sunday 22/01/2017
Motorists driving past US embassy in Tel Aviv

Ramallah - US President Donald Trump has insisted that he is serious about his promise to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv, the metropolitan coastal city, to Jerusalem, the focus of Pal­estinian-Israeli tensions.
The step is not new; many US presidential candidates have prom­ised during election campaigns to move the US embassy to Jerusalem but none carried out that commit­ment after arriving at the White House.
The move, it is believed, would spark violence and tensions. It would be a clear contradiction of international consensus regarding the status of the holy city.
Johnny Assi, an expert in inter­national law, said: “Capitals host embassies and other cities have consulates. Even though Israel considers Jerusalem its capital, the world doesn’t recognise the admin­istrative measures imposed in Jeru­salem by Israel.”
The Palestinian leadership, Arab countries, Europeans and the just-departed Obama administra­tion have expressed concerns that Trump will implement the Jerusa­lem Embassy Act. It was passed by the US Congress in 1995 to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jeru­salem, no later than May 31st, 1999.
US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who made the same promise to move the em­bassy, invoked a waiver, saying a bilateral peace agreement between the two sides was the only way to determine Jerusalem’s final status.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during a news conference in Bethlehem, called on Trump not to move the embassy, which would hinder the peace pro­cess.
“We heard President-elect Trump say this but we have not been in­formed of an official position yet,” Abbas said. “However, if he decides to move the embassy, it would be an illegal step that would ruin the two-state solution. If this happens, we will have a political and diplo­matic response.”
Palestinian politicians and ex­perts agree that if Trump moves the embassy, it would not upend US foreign policy and be the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution, the only viable and just solution for both Palestinians and Israelis in the view of more than 70 foreign minis­ters who gathered January 15th for an international peace conference in Paris.
“This is dangerous. Moving the embassy would counter all meas­ures and agreements reached be­fore. Going back to square one will not be easy for us,” said Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ad­nan Husseini.
The embassy move would also challenge the Oslo accords, signed between the Palestinians and Israe­lis and which govern relations be­tween the two sides and leave per­manent issues such as the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, se­curity arrangements, international borders and the rights of Palestin­ian refugees to be resolved jointly.
Tensions have been building following clashes in 2015 at Jeru­salem’s al-Aqsa mosque, one of Is­lam’s holiest sites, and increasing Israeli settler violence and intru­sion into the mosque yard, which they refer to as the Temple Mount.
Assi said the embassy move would not calm the situation in Je­rusalem and might result in more tensions.
“Israel’s occupation of the city of Jerusalem does not equal sov­ereignty. Jerusalem is an occupied territory since 1967. The reaction to the move might resemble that of the first intifada,” he said.
The city of Jerusalem has always been a sensitive issue that made reaching a solution between the Palestinians and Israel extremely difficult. The Palestinians are ada­mant that East Jerusalem would have to eventually serve as the cap­ital of a sovereign state of Palestine under the two-state solution. Israel considers Jerusalem its declared undivided capital, which already serves as its seat of government.
The city, however, is not recog­nised by almost any country as the capital of Israel. The US embassy has been in Tel Aviv — like other countries’ embassies — and to move it to Jerusalem would cause many problems, said Ahmad Rabaya, a resident of Ramallah.
“To move the embassy is to rec­ognise that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, which means the United States will no longer be an accepted broker of peace,” Rabaya said. “It will be an official declaration of the failure of negotiations and that the Palestinians have no political, historical or religious rights in the city.”
“For decades all we have known was tension, violence and injustice and Trump will only fuel the hatred and violence by denying our right in Jerusalem,” Rabaya concluded.