U.S. Em­bassy in Jerusalem pushes peace process aside

Trump’s ful­fill­ment of one prom­ise may come at the cost of an­other

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ANNE GEARAN AND RUTH EGLASH anne.gearan@wash­post.com ruth.eglash@wash­post.com Eglash re­ported from Jerusalem. Carol Morello con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Pres­i­dent Trump has been telling friendly au­di­ences that he is proudly ful­fill­ing a cam­paign prom­ise with the open­ing of the U.S. Em­bassy in Jerusalem, and that his real es­tate savvy is al­ready sav­ing the tax­pay­ers a buck on the new lo­ca­tion.

A cam­paign rally crowd gave Trump lengthy ap­plause when he said the new em­bassy will open Mon­day, and on the cheap.

“I said, ‘How much?,’ some­thing other presidents don’t ask. They said, ‘Sir, $1 bil­lion,’ ” Trump said in the­atri­cal dis­be­lief.

“For $150,000, I could fix it. It’ll be beau­ti­ful,” Trump said at the rally Thurs­day in Elkhart, Ind.

The pres­i­dent said noth­ing about an­other cam­paign prom­ise to seek a peace ac­cord be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans, or the fact that meet­ing the first prom­ise has, at least for now, fore­closed a chance for the se­cond.

A re­gional peace ini­tia­tive led by pres­i­den­tial ad­viser and sonin-law Jared Kush­ner has been shelved be­cause of Pales­tinian anger over the shift in decades of U.S. pol­icy re­gard­ing the em­bassy, which held that Jerusalem’s dis­puted sta­tus was an is­sue to be re­solved through ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Keep­ing the U.S. Em­bassy an hour away in Tel Aviv was a sig­nal that the United States would not pre­judge com­pet­ing Is­raeli and Pales­tinian claims to land and sites in the holy city.

Be­fore the em­bassy an­nounce­ment, the Trump peace plan was widely ex­pected to be un­veiled in early 2018, with Is­raeli-Pales­tinian talks to fol­low. Trump spoke ex­pan­sively last year of a chance to make “the ul­ti­mate deal,” suc­ceed­ing where oth­ers had fallen short.

Pales­tinian lead­ers called the em­bassy move a be­trayal and an ab­di­ca­tion of the U.S. role as a neu­tral bro­ker in the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. They have boy­cotted meet­ings with Amer­i­can of­fi­cials since the move was an­nounced in De­cem­ber. None of the se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials at­tend­ing the em­bassy open­ing on Mon­day, in­clud­ing Kush­ner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, are ex­pected to meet with Pales­tinian lead­ers.

The open­ing is timed to cel­e­brate Is­rael’s 70th an­niver­sary, on May 14.

Trump is not at­tend­ing, and nei­ther are Vice Pres­i­dent Pence and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, whose deputy John Sul­li­van is lead­ing the del­e­ga­tion. The rel­a­tively low-key del­e­ga­tion is a sig­nal that the White House re­tains hope for the peace pro­posal this year, al­though there are no out­ward signs of progress.

U.S. of­fi­cials say the plan is not dead and will be pre­sented “at the right time.” Trump has barely men­tioned it pub­licly in months, al­though he sounded up­beat when Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu vis­ited the White house in early March.

“We’re work­ing on it very hard,” Trump said then. “It would be a great achieve­ment — and even from a hu­man­i­tar­ian stand­point — what bet­ter if we could make peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans? And I can tell you, we are work­ing very hard on do­ing that. And I think we have a very good chance.”

Trump, who got nu­mer­ous de­tails wrong in his ac­count of the em­bassy’s cost, cites the re­lo­ca­tion of the mis­sion as an ex­am­ple of his bolder lead­er­ship style.

“Amer­ica is re­spected again. Dif­fer­ent ball­game,” Trump said at the cam­paign rally.

“After the prom­ises of many ad­min­is­tra­tions and presidents, and that they never did it — they cam­paigned on the prom­ise, they never did it — next week, we will fi­nally open the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Jerusalem,” he said.

Trump said he told U.S. Am­bas­sador to Is­rael David M. Fried­man to spend a lit­tle more — maybe $300,000 — and “it’ll be beau­ti­ful.”

The $1 bil­lion es­ti­mate is for the planned re­place­ment of an ex­ist­ing con­sular ser­vices site in south­ern Jerusalem, on land that was un­der Is­raeli sovereignty be­fore 1967 and, the Is­raelis ar­gue, is likely to re­main in Is­rael’s

“It would be a great achieve­ment . . . what bet­ter if we could make peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans?” Pres­i­dent Trump, speak­ing at the White House dur­ing a visit by Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter in early March “The cred­i­bil­ity of this ad­min­is­tra­tion as a po­ten­tial bro­ker is lost and ir­repara­ble.” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, a U.S. group that fa­vors a two-state peace set­tle­ment

hands un­der any fu­ture peace agree­ment.

Un­der plans pre­sented to Congress this year, the new em­bassy would ini­tially be housed in tem­po­rary quar­ters at that of­fice site. The cost would be $300,000 to $500,000, the fig­ure Trump ap­peared to men­tion at the rally. He sug­gested the ren­o­vated build­ing would then be­come per­ma­nent, sav­ing money, but it is not clear that the struc­ture would sat­isfy le­gal and lo­gis­ti­cal re­quire­ments for mov­ing most op­er­a­tions from Tel Aviv.

Other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials frame the em­bassy de­ci­sion as a com­mon-sense recog­ni­tion that Jerusalem al­ready func­tions as the Is­raeli cap­i­tal and would re­main so in any ne­go­ti­a­tion. In the face of crit­i­cism from Europe and the Mus­lim world, the White House has ar­gued that the em­bassy de­ci­sion would help peace prospects rather than hurt them.

That idea won the sur­prise back­ing Satur­day of a U.S. am­bas­sador to Is­rael un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Dan Shapiro wrote in a col­umn for CNN.com that “the shat­ter­ing of this taboo is use­ful in its own right” and “helps re­turn the search for a res­o­lu­tion to this con­flict to its ori­gins,” in the par­ti­tion of Pales­tine.

No other coun­tries have their em­bassies in Jerusalem, though some did op­er­ate from there un­til the 1980s. On Wed­nes­day, Gu­atemala will open its em­bassy in Jerusalem fol­low­ing the U.S. move.

In 70 years of Is­raeli his­tory and the 51 years since Is­rael oc­cu­pied East Jerusalem and the West Bank dur­ing the Six Day War, the con­flict is no closer to a res­o­lu­tion, Trump’s am­bas­sador, Fried­man, said Fri­day.

“One of the things that we thought was im­por­tant in terms of the con­flict was to look at the var­i­ous lever­age points and to see how we thought we could ad­just those to cre­ate a bet­ter dy­namic for peace,” Fried­man said.

“What the pres­i­dent saw was that the Pales­tini­ans es­sen­tially had a veto over the recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael,” Fried­man said. “You’re em­pow­er­ing the lever­age in a way that’s not help­ful.”

Pales­tinian ne­go­tia­tor Saeb Erekat last week ac­cused the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of vi­o­lat­ing in­ter­na­tional law and its “own com­mit­ments to­wards the peace process.”

“As Wash­ing­ton pur­sues a pol­icy of en­cour­age­ment of in­ter­na­tional an­ar­chy and dis­re­gard for or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­ter­na­tional law, we call upon all diplo­matic corps, civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions, and reli­gious author­i­ties to boy­cott the in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony,” Erekat said.

At­tend­ing the cer­e­mony would “lend le­git­i­macy to an il­le­gal de­ci­sion and to con­tin­ued Is­raeli poli­cies of oc­cu­pa­tion, col­o­niza­tion, and an­nex­a­tion,” Erekat said.

Fried­man, speak­ing to re­porters from Tel Aviv, said diplo­mats from other na­tions were not in­vited to the open­ing, “so it would be in­cor­rect to re­port that any other na­tion de­clined our in­vi­ta­tion be­cause we sim­ply didn’t send any out.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, a U.S. group that fa­vors a two-state peace set­tle­ment, called the em­bassy move a “sui­ci­dal act” that blocks the United States from play­ing any role in help­ing forge a deal of the mag­ni­tude and com­plex­ity that Trump seeks.

“The cred­i­bil­ity of this ad­min­is­tra­tion as a po­ten­tial bro­ker is lost and ir­repara­ble,” he said.

Pom­peo has called on Pales­tini­ans to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, but he did not meet with them when he vis­ited Is­rael on his first trip as sec­re­tary last month.

Pom­peo ap­pears to be po­si­tion­ing the State De­part­ment to re­sume a more tra­di­tional lead­ing role in the Mid­dle East port­fo­lio, par­tic­u­larly the peace process. Kush­ner’s pro­file in the re­gion is lower than it was last year, al­though he and U.S. ne­go­tia­tor Jason D. Green­blatt re­cently hosted a large re­gional con­fer­ence at the White House on the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the Gaza Strip.

Pom­peo also vis­ited Saudi Ara­bia and Jor­dan on his first trip as sec­re­tary of state.

In Am­man, Jor­da­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Ay­man Safadi made a point of say­ing that Jor­dan con­sid­ers the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict to be “the main cause of in­sta­bil­ity in the re­gion” and that the goal should be a sov­er­eign, in­de­pen­dent Pales­tine with East Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal. That is the cen­tral Pales­tinian de­mand from a set­tle­ment.

“The two-state so­lu­tion re­mains the only path to that peace,” Safadi said, with Pom­peo stand­ing along­side.

Pom­peo said the United States was not tak­ing any fi­nal po­si­tion on “bound­aries or bor­ders” and would sup­port a two-state so­lu­tion “if the par­ties agree to it.”

Sources: B’Tse­lem, satel­lite im­agery via Planet THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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