Friday, December 16, 2016

How Long Should Arab Anger Be A Deterrent To Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem?

The messages the West sends to the Middle East matter.

Just ask President Obama -- or better, ask Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Post. Back in 2010, Diehl described How Obama sabotaged Middle East peace talks:
So why does Abbas stubbornly persist in his self-defeating position? In an interview with Israeli television Sunday night, he offered a remarkably candid explanation: "When Obama came to power, he is the one who announced that settlement activity must be stopped," he said. "If America says it and Europe says it and the whole world says it, you want me not to say it?"

The statement confirmed something that many Mideast watchers have suspected for a long time: that the settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas, but with Obama -- who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote. [emphasis added]
Abbas had a point -- why bother to get involved in negotiations with Israel that would require concessions on both sides, when Obama telegraphed to the Arab world that a major demand of the Arab world could be forced out of Israel by Obama without Abbas ever having to come to the table? If Obama was signalling to the Arab world he would do their work for them, why not just sit back and wait?

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Abbas -- no time for negotiations. Credit: Flash90
Even when Netanyahu agreed to suspend building in the settlements for 10 months, as an opening concession to bring Abbas to the negotiating table, Abbas waited until the last month before showing up -- and then demanded an extenstion. When he didn't get it, he left.

Obama thought the message he was sending to the Arab world would strenghen his street cred with the Arab world and bring Abbas to the negotiating table.

It had the exact opposite effect.

Enter MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

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MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Source: Elder of Ziyon

Matthews is upset with the idea of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as per President-elect Trump's promise. Matthews claims:
Why are we moving the embassy to — to Jerusalem at a time that the whole place over there could blow up? Why do we something that's right in the face of the Palestinians, right in the face of the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians. The one thing they say is leave you know, the Dome of the Rock alone, leave our — the hopeful capital of a Palestinian state alone. Don't desecrate it by saying it's the capital of Israel at this point?
Elder of Ziyon points out that when you take away the emotionalism of his outburst, Chris Matthews doesn't have much of a reason not to move the US embassy to Jerusalem

Note that Mathews
  • does not argue there is a legal reason not to move the embassy
  • does not argue the move would violate Islamic law
  • does not seem to realize the US embassy would be moved to the part of Jerusalem that has been under Israeli control since 1948
Instead, what Matthews argues is nothing should be done that might make the Arabs angry, and that assumed anger should dictate the actions of both Israel and the US.

And that is the problem -- the pre-conceived assumption that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would infuriate the Arab world.

But that is all it is.
An assumption.

Elder of Ziyon points out:
I just did a quick search in Arabic news sites to see if there is any anger over this possible move of the embassy. There is very, very little. For the most part, this is not even a story, although some Arab news outlets are covering it dispassionately.

Of all the things for Arabs and Muslims to worry about in an impending Trump administration, moving the US embassy from one part of Israel to another part within the Green Line is not even on their radar.
Matthews is making a bigger deal out of the US embassy move than the Arabs are.
Of course, Matthews is not the only one predicting an angry Arab response.

Aaron David Miller is a former advisor to Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State on Arab-Israeli negotiations, and he feels the same way. When he describes Why Trump’s Plan to Move the U.S. Embassy in Israel Is Unwise.

Miller writes that the move would damage US interests and credibility -- though one might argue that seeing the US pursuing the interests of an ally might increase credibility, given the novelty of the idea of the US standing behind its allies after 8 years.

He also argues that such a move could "chill" or "kill" efforts by a Trump administration to pursue peacemaking in the area. Even Miller recognizes the current comatose state of negotiations. He just doesn't want to kill it outright. Fair enough, but just how long should decisions and actions by Israel and the West be held hostage, waiting for Abbas to show willingness for honest negotiations?

Finally, Miller believes that moving the US embassy would undercut Israel's recently improved relations with several Arab states. Those improved negotiations are a result of Israeli initiatives and years of preparation. If Israel feels that it is worth the potential Arab backlash for the US embassy to be in Jerusalem, with the political validation it brings to Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, then let Israel make the choice.

The message Matthews and Miller are sending, like Obama's hint to Abbas that the US would force concessions from Israel, serves to strengthen the hand of those Arab leaders who exert influence by doing nothing, and letting the fear of their potential angry response keep the West in line.

The West has worked hard not to upset the apple cart.
There are those in the Arab world who do not share philosophy.
The current situation in the Middle East is the result.

Strenghening Democratic allies might not be such a bad idea after all.


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