WASHINGTON — If President-elect Donald Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he should do it quickly and adeptly, according to a report by a prominent Middle East scholar.
The paper to be released Tuesday by Robert Satloff, who heads the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, examines ways that Trump can fulfill his pledge without prompting violent unrest or a diplomatic crisis in the region.
For Trump, the question is how to deliver something the last three successive United States presidents went to great lengths to avoid. Satloff has laid out what he believes to be the answer in his new policy memo that presents a series of recommendations on how to execute the relocation.
Critics of moving the embassy have argued it would hurt America’s ability to work with the Palestinians, rupture its relationship with other Arab governments and make the Israeli-Palestinian issue a central focus when more pressing regional conflicts demand greater attention.
They have also primarily argued that it would escalate volatility in the region. Palestinian leaders have warned it will “open the gates of hell.”
But Satloff says this is “essentially a condescending view of Arabs and Muslims that assumes they will react mindlessly to incendiary calls to violence” that does not “reflect a net assessment that includes the potential impact of subtle, creative, and at times forceful American diplomacy.”
In his “action plan” for the move, Satloff says the first step should be to have private, high-level consultations between the US and Israel to work out the mechanics. The US should then make its announcement and begin the process promptly.
“The relocation should be publicly announced as soon as possible after the consultations are satisfactorily concluded,” he said. “Otherwise, opponents of the new US policy will have time to gather their resources and put obstacles in its way.”
Beyond timing and security, one of the primary recommendations Satloff makes deals with the actual location of the facility in Jerusalem, which he says should be situated inside the municipal boundaries that has been controlled by Israel since 1948, and not in the parts of the city that were captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
It is imperative, he argues, that the US is able to present the new physical setting of the embassy as having “no direct impact on negotiations to resolve disputes” over the permanent status of Jerusalem.
Another dimension of that decision, Satloff says, is that it would allow Trump to say the move aims to repair what he described as the “historic injustice of America’s failure to recognize any sovereign Israeli presence in Jerusalem since the country’s founding.”
But Satloff calls on the administration not to link the announcement to the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War this June, which Israel hails as the “unification of Jerusalem.”
That linkage, Satloff said, would discredit the claim that the new embassy aims to rectify the wrong of not placing the US Embassy in the nation’s capital after the modern State of Israel was established.
According to Satloff, building a new structure in pre-1967 territory would be a better alternative than the option of redesignating the current US consulate-general facility as the new embassy.
Nevertheless, Satloff recommended in his memo, of which The Times of Israel received an advance copy, that the US needs to inform its Arab allies of its plans and place those discussions as a part of a broader policy agenda.
Trump’s diplomatic team should sell the move as a “reaffirmation of America’s commitment to allies and its willingness to take bold steps to give meaning to those alliances,” he said.
President Barack Obama has been criticized for not strenuously enough defending US allies in the region, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The incoming president needs to also make clear to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the move does not impact any final status issues of an ultimate two-state deal, while putting pressure on him to work toward “preventing, not provoking violence, from which only radicals, especially Hamas, can benefit.”
Satloff also said that Trump should make clear that any “failure to adopt a constructive approach toward the embassy relocation would ensure that Abbas does not receive an invitation to visit the new president in the White House.”
Trump, who as a candidate vowed to move the embassy during his address at last year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, has indicated during the transition that he will follow through on that promise.
While past presidents like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also vowed on the campaign trail to move the embassy, they did not deliver once they assumed the responsibilities of conducting foreign policy.
In 1995, Congress adopted a resolution, led by former House speaker and current Trump confidant Newt Gingrich, that called on the president to move the embassy. But each presidency since then has repeatedly used the prerogative granted to them to delay implementation of that demand.
The current waiver expires in May 2017.
Each president since then, including Obama, has maintained that the future status of Jerusalem should be settled in final negotiations between the parties, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the holy city as their rightful capital.
But Trump has indicated he will break with those practices. In December, he nominated longtime friend and attorney David Friedman to be the next US ambassador to Israel.
In a statement announcing the selection, Friedman, a vocal supporter and donor to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said he expected to carry out his duties in “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
There have also been reports that Trump’s advisers are already in the process of planning the relocation. Campaign manager and soon-to-be White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has said it is “a very big priority for him.”
And earlier this month,Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) proposed the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, which urges Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.