After the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, many foreign allies have been questioning the United States' commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Now is the time for the administration to affirm its allegiance to facilitating peace talks between both the Knesset and the Palestinian Authority.
Keeping a campaign promise, President Donald Trump made a controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy earlier this month. The decision was widely rebuked by former State Department officials who believed this decision upended decades of carefully crafted foreign policy. It was also criticized by key U.S. allies. Calling the move “irresponsible” and “dangerous” is to be expected by a nation whose foreign policy is openly anti-Israel, but even the highly conservative British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed concern with the move. Despite international rebuke, U.S. leaders have long talked about the idea of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv. Then-candidate Bill Clinton, in the 1992 campaign, expressed strong support for recognizing Israel's capital as Jerusalem.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has declared that the U.S. will go forward with the move. It is now up to both Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to assure the international community — including U.S. allies — that the administration remains committed to the peace process.
Before Trump announced his decision, Tillerson said, “We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved.” He added, “The president is very committed to the Middle East peace process. He has a team he put into place. That team has been working very diligently.”
Action is now needed to support this rhetoric.
Tillerson and Haley should put forward a clear proposal for how they plan to revive peace talks — and what will be done about the long-standing contention over the status of Jerusalem. This issue has been the central dispute — often called the “final status issue” — hindering progress in peace talks since 1967.
In the 2000 talks at Camp David among President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Jerusalem was considered the main point of contention that inhibited a final agreement from being reached. The city is considered sacred by three world religions. Palestinians desire control of East Jerusalem and sacred sites in the Old City, while Israelis have resisted relinquishing eastern portions of the city.
Right or wrong, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem sends a strong message that the U.S. believes Israel has the right to control Jerusalem. Based on the past six decades of peace agreements, the U.S. now faces the imperative of negotiating with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to find an acceptable solution for all parties.
Doing so will require difficult, committed and sensitive diplomacy rather than brash action. Haley and Tillerson, in concert with the entire administration, must work on a foreign policy posture that will enable talks to continue. They must also affirm their commitment to the peace process — assuring allies and enemies alike that the U.S. has not abdicated its role as facilitator in this ongoing process.