WASHINGTON — Former prime minister Ehud Barak insisted on Friday night that neither moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem nor recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital would be that big of a deal.
“I don’t think that this is a consequential event,” he said at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., “especially if the Arabs will be let known in advance and [it is] explained to them that it doesn’t close the door on any future American effort.”
Speaking to members of Congress, diplomats, foreign dignitaries, Israeli officials and one US Supreme Court justice, Barak, who some believe is mulling a re-entry into politics, said that more important than what the Trump White House does on Jerusalem is the nature of the plan it unveils on forging a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
“It’s much more consequential what kind of plan will be proposed by the Trump administration,” he said. “If it will be just a kind of illustration of a possible way out that both sides will be invited to deal with, we will see something that we have seen daily for 10 years: The blame game starts before they even enter the talks.”
Just as the White House is preparing to ramp up its efforts to renew negotiations between the sides — The New York Times reported last week that the new peace proposal will be presented in early 2018 — US President Donald Trump is reportedly also set to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital next week.
Axios reported on Friday that Trump will give a speech Wednesday in which he makes that declaration. He also may order the relocation of the embassy. The White House has not confirmed these reports.
The Wall Street Journal, for its part, reported on Thursday that US officials were contacting embassies in the region warning them to prepare for the possibility of violent protests.
Barak, however, indicated he did not fear that violence would transpire, and that he wanted Trump to go through with the embassy move. “I like the idea very much,” he said. “I regret that it didn’t [happen] 10, 20 or 65 years ago. I think that all embassies of all nations should be in Jerusalem.”
Barak was initially supposed to engage in a conversation with Republican Senator Tom Cotton — to debate approaches to dealing with the Iran deal going forward — but the Arkansas lawmaker had to be at the Capitol to vote on the landmark tax reform passed overnight Friday.
A 1995 Congressional mandate requires the US Embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem, but gives the president the prerogative to postpone the move every six months on national security grounds.
Each of Trump’s three immediate predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — repeatedly exercised that right, while Trump, too, signed the waiver when faced with his first deadline in June.
The formal deadline for his second deadline was December 1, but since that date fell on a Friday this year, the deadline was extended to December 4, after the weekend, a State Department official confirmed to The Times of Israel.
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has been leading the administration’s peace efforts. He is scheduled to participate in a highly anticipated keynote conversation on Sunday at the Saban Forum, which will mark the first time he publicly discusses the administration’s peace push.
He will undoubtedly face questions about the Trump team’s position vis-a-vis Jerusalem and how that might impact the quest to forge an agreement between the sides — something his boss (and father-in-law) refers to as “the ultimate deal.”