US President Donald Trump has landed in Tel Aviv, bringing with him precarious baggage of previous presidencies alongside his own belligerence. Since his vague utterance implying a departure from the two-state compromise, media speculation has missed some important points. The "ultimate deal" which Trump occasionally refers to, may end up being far more explicit than any other political statement so far. Two main points are at stake: colonial settlement expansion, as well as the fluctuations on whether the US should move its embassy to Jerusalem.
A brief recap of the last days of Barack Obama's presidency shows a hasty, one-time reversal of its penchant for using the veto when it comes to UN Security Council resolutions over settlement expansion and Israeli violations. Away from the backdrop of exhilaration at this belated move which only changed routine temporarily at the UNSC, speculations and statements about relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was about to become the next intermittent media topic.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office published excerpts of summary reports from two meetings which took place earlier this year, both dealing with the possibility of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. The report detailing Netanyahu's meeting with Trump last February portrays an insistence by the Israeli prime minister that moving the embassy "wouldn't cause bloodshed in the region as people were telling him." More revealing was the excerpt of a discussion between Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and former US National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Quoted in Haaretz, the report partially stated: "Moving the embassy will force the other side to cope with the lie they are formulating that Israel has no connection to Jerusalem."
A week prior to Trump's visit, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the administration was "evaluating" the impact such a decision would have on the diplomatic negotiations. Netanyahu's response on the eve of the Nakba anniversary was particularly revolting: "Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will not only not harm the peace process, it will advance it by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel."
To achieve this consolidation of the violent colonial narrative, Netanyahu was also adamant about the international community's role, having declared at a Likud event as reported by the Times of Israel that Jerusalem is "the eternal capital of the Israeli people and it is fitting that all embassies, especially that of our friend the United States, be moved to Jerusalem."
It is ironic that Netanyahu should mention a "historical wrong" mere hours prior to the Nakba commemoration. Yet equally telling is also the fact that he expects the international community to comply with annihilating Palestinian history and memory. So far, it is not possible to tell whether the US will initiate Netanyahu's ambition. Yet, the issuing of statements and retracting has achieved something which has been largely ignored. Diplomacy now has the opportunity to include relocation in the negotiations, even if just as a contentious topic for a while.
Considering this scenario, it is pathetic that Palestinian leaders have contributed to the misinformation by refusing to address the current situation, opting instead for predictions about a hypothetical outcome. In a letter, PA President Mahmoud Abbas had warned that the move would have a "disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region." The statement is flawed for several reasons: the so-called peace process without other clauses added to it has already proved to be detrimental to Palestinians, while the two-state paradigm has, more than ever, become mired in ambiguity, due to official and belatedly accurate statements deeming it obsolete yet the concept still forms the premise of a hypothetical future agreement.
So far, US Presidents have not implemented the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 due to an amendment which grants the president waiver authority, according to Sec 7 (a) (1) of the Act: "for a period of six months if he determines and reports to congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States."
A few days prior to his visit, Trump indicated the possibility that relocation of the embassy will not happen in the immediate future. The view was echoed by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, albeit void of any concern for Palestinians. According to Haaretz, Friedman advised Israel to refrain from forcing the agenda, which may or may not result in a shift as regards US policy.
The immediate danger at this point is the insertion of such a demand becoming part of the negotiations. While departing from an ineffective stance, the PA has objected to the move and so have other Palestinian political factions which were more adamant in their assertions of relocation constituting a violation of international law.
Yet, it must be remembered that the PA had no qualms in the past about squandering Jerusalem – the Palestine Papers revealed Saeb Erekat offering Israel "the biggest Jerusalem in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state … what more can I give?" If Erekat was willing to betray Palestine by giving up Jerusalem, it is likely that PA objection to the inclusion of embassy relocation becoming a staple in any forthcoming negotiations will be weak, fractured by previous dangerous blunders and in the end, subject to additional compromise in which Palestinians are humiliated against their own will.
This is the underlying issue which the PA will be averse to tackle. The safest trajectory is to predict bloodshed and, if relocation happens, the collaborative entity can sit back and refer to have done its duty in the early months of the Trump Administration. Palestinians are disadvantaged having no internationally-recognised interlocutor within their leadership who can insist upon their historical rights to Jerusalem. Oblivion, however, does not necessarily translate to an absence of such rights. What the embassy relocation rhetoric has revealed, however, is the discrepancy between Israel's plans to annihilate Palestinian rights in plain sight of the international community and the PA's ineffective stance which rightly advocates against such a move, yet has no qualms about widening the spectrum of concessions for Israel which endangers what remains of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.