President Donald Trump has promised to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move which many in the U.S. Congress say they would endorse. While promises to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have become a staple of presidential campaign rhetoric, no president has taken serious action to fulfill his pledge once he enters the Oval Office. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to erase near a quarter century of Oslo Accord-era peace process by resetting their parameters with UN Security Council Resolution 2234, however, appears to have galvanized Trump and Congress to force the State Department to push through with the relocation.
The recognition that Trump is serious has led diplomats and Middle East analysts to argue that moving the embassy to Jerusalem could spark serious unrest. That violence would not be limited to Palestinians, either. It may also engulf Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, and also two of America’s closest partners in the Arab world. Back in December, Eli Lake wrote in Bloomberg that “Arab diplomats in recent days have told me that they worry an embassy move would stoke violent protests in their own countries.” Several former peace processors—Aaron David Miller and Edward Djerejian, for example—told Politico that moving the embassy might kill the peace process.
Kerry told CBS News, that should Trump move the embassy, “You’d have an explosion – an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region. The Arab world has enormous interest in the Haram al-Sharif, as it is called; the Temple Mount, the Dome [of the Rock], and it is a holy site for the Arab world.”
Let’s put aside that no one is suggesting moving the embassy to disputed portions of Jerusalem, but rather to West Jerusalem which is an undisputed part of Israel proper. And also forget for the moment that the peace process has hardly advanced since Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas turned down Israel’s 2008 peace offer. Could Kerry be correct? And should the Arab diplomats warning behind-the-scenes of dire consequences be believed?
Here, history should inform. Prior to both 1991 Operation Desert Storm, and then again ahead of the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, many diplomats and analysts—including some quoted in the most recent articles—suggested that U.S. forces entering the Arab world would spark protests and riots. But, in both cases, demonstrations largely fizzled. Those that did occur were often state-sponsored. What brought Arabs into the streets was not questions of war and peace in Israel but largely local issues—a vendor’s self-immolation in Tunisia and a blogger’s death under torture in Egypt.
Simply put, the threat that moving the embassy to Jerusalem will spark chaos in Jordan and Egypt is overblown, an excuse more manufactured than real.