An embassy for American diplomats (and ostensible rallying point for pro-Palestinian protesters) will open in Jerusalem next year. On Monday, Vice-President Mike Pence announced that the United States will formalize its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in remarks before the Israeli parliament.
“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem — and the embassy will open next year,” Pence said. “Our president made his decision in the best interests of the United States — but he also made it clear that we believe this decision is in the best interests of peace.”
“By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction — and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” the vice-president added.
Unfortunately, the idea that opening an American embassy in Jerusalem will improve the prospects of a peace agreement is, itself, a fiction. Israeli Arab lawmakers protested Pence’s speech by loudly exiting parliament shortly after it began. And Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declined to meet with Pence, opting instead for a trip to Brussels, where he will lobby European foreign ministers to recognize Palestinian statehood.
The status of Jerusalem has always been a central point of contention in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The eastern part of the city lies outside of Israel’s original borders, and only became a part of the Jewish state after the Israeli military captured and annexed it in 1967. The ancient municipality is, of course, home to sites sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Thus, the Palestinian leadership would like the city to be divided — and for East Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state. The Israeli government would prefer to maintain sovereignty over the whole thing.
For decades, Washington had refused to take a side in this dispute, so as to maintain the (obviously false) pretense that it is a neutral arbiter in the conflict. By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December, Trump tore off that fig leaf; earned the antipathy of the Palestinian leadership; sparked mass protests in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem; and handed the Netanyahu government a massive symbolic victory — without extracting any concessions on settlement expansion (which even the Trump administration officially opposes) or any other matter related to the conflict.
The irrationality of Trump’s gesture was mitigated by two factors:
(1) The president did not declare Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel — and thus, took no official stance on the underlying point of contention.
(2) He did not announce any timetable for relocating the the U.S. Embassy, leaving open the possibility that his administration might yet extract some concessions from Israel for that gesture.
That possibility has now been foreclosed.
The move represents a victory for a small number of GOP megadonors — chief among them casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — and for a larger number of conservative Evangelical voters, who believe that the presence of a Jewish state in Israel is a precondition for the Armageddon that will transport them all to Heaven (and transport all unconverted Jews to Hell).