This is not going to end well.
President elect Donald Trump has named a bankruptcy lawyer with precisely ZERO diplomatic experience, David Friedman, as the US ambassador to Israel and it is clear that his administration will move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Mr. Friedman is an extremist whose views on the Israel-Palestine conflict are Neanderthal in nature. He rejects a two-state solution, supports increased settlement of the occupied territories and has compared those who disagree with him as worse than the “kapos” – Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in the death camps in WWII. Not exactly “diplomatic”. He still has to pass congressional muster but the mere fact he has been nominated is not a good sign.
Over my long career in intelligence I have to admit that I consciously avoided studying or analysing the Israel-Palestine issue. Why? Well, I suppose that I found other subjects more interesting but also I felt that this matter was so intractable and irresolvable that it would be frustrating to get immersed in it. There are extremist and ideologues on both sides of the dispute and every time a hint of peace or progress is made some violent actor disrupts things and we are back to square one. So it is with high trepidation that I venture back into this political minefield and with the full realisation that I will make some readers very angry.
I cannot see how a US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and effectively recognise the city as the capital of Israel will bring any good to the region. Jerusalem is a city revered by the world’s three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three have a lot of history and holy sites – the Jewish temple, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where Jesus Christ’s body was lain after he was crucified) and the Al Aqsa mosque from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. The passion and emotion that believers hold towards Jerusalem isn’t going away any time soon.
When the state of Israel was created in 1947 by the United Nations the original plan was to keep Jerusalem separate from Israel or Palestine – in essence an international city. During the 1948 war Israel occupied the west part of the city and in the 1967 war it occupied the eastern section, an act that has never been recognised by any country. Successive Israeli governments have allowed Jewish expansion into the eastern sector, usually to the detriment of the Muslim residents.
This area of the world has been unstable for decades. There are extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide and neither side seems to be interested in a permanent solution. I know officials who have worked tirelessly for decades to resolve this issue and I admire them, although they must feel at times that their efforts are all for naught. As some have said with regard to the Israeli and Palestinian inability to agree to a non-violent end, “a pox on both their houses”.
Should the Trump government elect to officially see Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and that is not certain given the fickleness of the president elect – this will not contribute to peace. Quite on the contrary, more terrorism and violence will ensue. If there is no positive result, why would the US government do this, aside from appeasing a very small, but vocal, extremist Jewish lobby? What is wrong with keeping its embassy in Tel Aviv, where every other country does?
The only hope for this great city is to internationalise it. That was the original plan and I cannot see any alternative. No, it is not perfect, and no it will likely not end the violence in view of the paucity of sober actors on either side. Nevertheless, it is probable that Israel and the US will pay the price for this foolish and unnecessary move. What ever happened to “do no harm”?