Will Donald Trump pull the trigger on the long-delayed move of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? And is that just a metaphor? According to multiple sources, Trump spent time working the phones today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II before calling Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. According to Abbas, Trump will announce the move tomorrow:
“President Mahmoud Abbas received a telephone call from U.S. President Donald Trump in which he notified the President (Abbas) of his intention to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said in a statement.
The statement did not say whether Trump elaborated on the timing of such a move.
Needless to say, Abbas isn’t terribly happy about this development:
“President Abbas warned of the dangerous consequences such a decision would have to the peace process and to the peace, security and stability of the region and of the world,” Abu Rdainah said.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto says that Abbas told Trump that he’d work to block the move, which … isn’t a good strategy for this president:
Breaking: Trump informed Palestinian leader Abbas of his intentions to move US embassy to Jerusalem, Abbas warned of consequences and vowed to attempt to block move, says Abbas spokesman.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) December 5, 2017
Congress passed a law two decades ago requiring the US to establish its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. At the time, both Republicans and Democrats wanted to put pressure on Yasser Arafat to negotiate in good faith, believing the Palestinians to be working to undermine the Oslo accords. However, that law included presidential authority to waive the move for six months at a time in order to facilitate those negotiations, which presidents of both parties have done ever since — and which Trump himself did this spring.
The writing was on the wall however, if readers will forgive the biblical reference, and Arab leaders knew it. A coalition of Muslim countries tried to head off Trump’s decision yesterday, warning that its 57 member states would cut off diplomatic relations with the US and any other nation that followed suit:
An umbrella organization of Muslim countries said Monday that President Donald Trump’s possible recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would constitute “naked aggression” against the Arab and Muslim world, as the ruling Palestinian party has called for mass protests against such a move by Washington.
The Organization for Islamic Cooperation issued a statement condemning an anticipated announcement by the president, saying its 57 member states should sever ties with any state that transfers its embassy to Jerusalem or recognizes Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem.
Even close allies like Jordan and Saudi Arabia have pushed back at the news, and it’s not just the Muslim countries balking, either. France and Germany have issued warnings to the US to refrain from the move:
French President Emmanuel Macron earlier said he reminded Trump in a phone call that the fate of Jerusalem should be determined in negotiations on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Macron said he expressed concern about any possible unilateral U.S. moves and that he agreed with Trump “to speak again shortly on this subject.” …
Germany’s foreign minister is warning that any U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would be dangerous and could deepen the Middle East conflict.
Sigmar Gabriel said Tuesday that “recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not calm a conflict, rather it fuels it even more,” and that such a move “would be a very dangerous development.”
Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, who has become a rather fractious ally anyway these days, says they might also punish Israel for the move:
Speaking to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that American recognition of Jerusalem would be a “red line” for Muslims, possibly forcing Turkey to cut diplomatic ties with Israel, which were renewed recently after a six-year split.
The timing of this is somewhat forced by the waiver, but still curious. Jared Kushner is still working behind the scenes with the Saudis on a range of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in hopes of building a grand deal that has eluded every American president since the 1967 war. Kushner’s also working with the Jordanians and Egyptians, presumably, the only Arab Muslim nations to have any official diplomatic relations with Israel at all, and Turkey, whose relations with Israel have been strained to the breaking point for years.
Have those negotiations stalled? If they were progressing, it would seem very strange to choose this time to upset the applecart. If they’re going nowhere and Kushner’s just getting the runaround, then maybe Trump wants to force a change in the status quo with a bold move, but this one could have deadly consequences, and not just in Jerusalem. Mohammed bin Salman just pulled off a purge in Saudi Arabia to take control of the country’s direction, ostensibly to push reform. This move could give momentum to the hardliners within the Saudi royal family and touch off an internecine war.
It’s already a powderkeg in the region, and not a great time or place to be playing with dynamite. But if it forces the Palestinians and their Sunni Arab allies into some serious concessions, it might be worth a try. Nothing else seems to be working.
Addendum: Be sure to read Jeff Dunetz’ historical look at the issues surrounding Jerusalem from Israel’s perspective, too.
Update: Abbas is going to an odd place for some divine intervention:
JUST IN: Palestinian President Abbas urges the Pope, Russian, French and Jordanian leaders to intervene on Trump's plan to move U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – spokesman https://t.co/KDBDCCOvss pic.twitter.com/jar1nwwbW6
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 5, 2017
This might just play into Trump’s hands too, if he’s attempting to gain leverage over Abbas. He can agree to consider such requests if Abbas starts offering concessions in return. It’s unclear whether that is Trump’s intent, but if it is, this won’t hurt.
Update: Maybe that divine intervention request work? Bloomberg now reports that Trump will announce another 6-month waiver tomorrow, but that he plans to make the move at some point. Big question — did Trump get anything in exchange for another waiver, or did he just get talked out of it?
Update: The White House seems to indicate that this waiver will be the last, if indeed he does waive the law again tomorrow:
Pres Trump to make remarks tomorrow on his decisions about Jerusalem, says @PressSec. Says he'll make "the best decision for the United States." Says he's "pretty solid in his thinking" about Jerusalem. pic.twitter.com/ot0OOD8LA8
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) December 5, 2017