Ex-US envoy voices support for ‘carefully’ moving embassy to Jerusalem
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'Done carefully, it could advance American interests. Done carelessly, it could lead to tragedy'

Ex-US envoy voices support for ‘carefully’ moving embassy to Jerusalem

Offering advice to new administration, Dan Shapiro professes his 'love of Jerusalem' and 'sense of justice for Jewish claims to the city'

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Then-US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro at a conference in Jerusalem, November 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Then-US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro at a conference in Jerusalem, November 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After consistently defending the Obama administration’s opposition to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro now appears sympathetic to the idea.

In an article offering advice to the new US administration, he argues that the embassy’s relocation could take place even before a final Palestinian-Israeli peace deal is reached.

The move might also have positive practical implications for American diplomats stationed in Israel, who would no longer need to travel from Tel Aviv to to Jerusalem to meet government officials, he wrote.

“I supported all three presidents’ use of their national security waiver authority to delay the move in the interest of pursuing Middle East peace. But I have never believed that arguments for moving the embassy were groundless, or that it must await a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement,” Shapiro wrote in Foreign Policy Magazine (registration required).

“I’m influenced by my love of Jerusalem — an emotional attachment born of decades studying its history — and sense of justice for Jewish claims to the city that are far too often called into question. The presence of a US Embassy in parts of Jerusalem no one disputes are Israeli territory is one way of acknowledging the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city, the questioning of which is closely linked to the denial of Israel’s very legitimacy.”

‘Done carefully, it could advance American national goals and interests. Done carelessly, it could cause them grave harm and lead to preventable tragedy’

The former ambassador, who continues to live in Israel so his children can finish school here, offers several pieces of advice on how US President Donald Trump could fulfill his campaign promise to move the embassy in a constructive manner that would not provoke too much protest from the Arab world.

“Done carefully, it could advance American national goals and interests. Done carelessly, it could cause them grave harm and lead to preventable tragedy,” he said.

So far, statements coming from the White House suggest it is not rushing to move the embassy but weighing the question carefully, the ex-diplomat pointed out, calling it “a welcome contrast to numerous off-the-cuff policy pronouncements, from China to Mexico to refugee and immigration policy.”

Earlier this week, Trump said in an interview that there is “a chance” that he’ll move the embassy, but acknowledged that there are “two sides” to this issue and that it is “not easy” to make a decision.

President Donald Trump in a CBN interview, January 2017 (CBN screenshot)
President Donald Trump in a CBN interview, January 2017 (CBN screenshot)

To safeguard a future peace deal based on the two-state solution, of which a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem is a central component, the US Embassy should be located in the western part of the city, Shapiro suggested in the Foreign Policy article. The administration should make it very clear that the move does not constitute an official recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the entire city, he argued.

Furthermore, the US needs to recommit itself to preserving the status quo of the holy sites to “assuage both Muslim sensitivities about the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) and Jewish sensitivities about the Western Wall,” Shapiro wrote.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians will be happy about such pronouncements, he added, but they could “actually advance the prospects for a two-state solution by shattering self-defeating myths on both sides.”

The US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 14, 2016. (Flash 90)
The US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 14, 2016. (Flash 90)

Before publicly announcing the embassy’s move, the Trump administration should consult with other important stakeholders: the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Saudis and the Egyptians, the former ambassador recommended.

Arab leaders are likely to protest the relocation and might even threaten some kind of “diplomatic retaliation,” Shapiro predicted, but they also wish to “get off on the right foot with the Trump administration, and several have common strategic interests with Israel.”

Informing the Arab world about the administration’s plan “shows respect” and could actually “dampen the blowback,” he argued.

Washington should avoid linking a possible embassy relocation to this June’s 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, during which Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem, Shapiro suggested. Such a connection would appear to endorse Israel’s subsequent annexation of this part of the city and thus “drag the United States into a historical argument that is not ours.”

Rejecting suggestions that the US could simply put up a sign at its Jerusalem Consulate that says “Embassy,” Shapiro said a new large and secure facility would have to be built in the capital to accommodate the mission’s 800 employees. New residences would have to be found for staffers asked to move to Jerusalem, and solutions found for those who don’t want to relocate.

Such a project — which would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” — needs to be well planned and could take up to 10 years, Shapiro estimated.

In contemplating the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, the US should not be deterred by the prospect of violent protests, but at the same time “we also should not pretend that the risk of violence does not exist,” the former envoy urged.

“Terror and violence can never be justified, but any significant policy change should be accompanied by a professional assessment about the risks of violence and the ability to contain it. Lives may well be at stake if an embassy move is handled cavalierly, and it is simply denial to say otherwise.”

PM Netanyahu, his wife Sara, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and his wide Julie Fisher, at a US Independence Day celebration, June 30, 2016 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
PM Netanyahu, his wife Sara, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and his wide Julie Fisher, at a US Independence Day celebration, June 30, 2016 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Since leaving the ambassador’s residence on January 20, Shapiro has not been shy about weighing in on matters regarding US-Israel relations. For instance, he questioned the motives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for Trump’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico, which led to a diplomatic crisis with the Latin American country.

In 1995, when the US Congress passed legislation requiring the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Shapiro worked as foreign policy aide to Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was instrumental in getting the law’s sponsors to insert a provision allowing the president to waive the move. It is this particular stipulation that has prevented the embassy’s relocation for the last 22 years.

The waiver, last signed on December 1, 2016, by president Barack Obama, expires on June 1.

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