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26 January 2017

Jerusalem gets short reprieve

By: Daoud Kuttab
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It appears, from various sources, that the Trump administration will not make any rash decisions regarding the promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
 
White House spokesman Sean Spicer was asked three times about the issue in the first White House briefing, and repeated that no decision had been made.
 
The writing was on the wall when David Friedman, who was chosen to become the US ambassador to Israel (or, as settlers say, the Israeli ambassador to the US), said that he planned to live in Jerusalem regardless of where the embassy is located.
 
A series of statements, phone calls and words of advice were made in the days before, which resulted in this decision.
 
The strong statements by King Abdullah and Jordanian officials, which was followed up by a meeting with the Palestinian president, are said to have been among the most important features that caused the Trump administration to delay making any firm decision on the issue.
 
The King, who was in the US in the days before the inauguration, met with a number of Trump administration advisers.
 
The Chinese president’s strong position on the subject was also instrumental in Washington’s slowing down on taking a decision.
 
The fact that the nominated US secretary of state and other senior officials have yet to be confirmed by the US senate also probably contributed to not moving quickly on the issue.
 
The final communiqué of the Paris conference, attended by 70 countries on January 15, including many US allies, was firm in its rejection of any move that could adversely affect peace talks and predetermine the outcome of negotiations.
 
The job of  President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was appointed as a peace envoy, would certainly have become more difficult had the newly elected US president made a rash decision on the issue of the very sensitive status of the holy city.
 
A US law passed in 1995 calls for the move of the embassy unless the president feels it could harm US national security.
 
Successive Republican and Democratic presidents have taken this route. US President Barack Obama signed early in December a six-month waiver on this issue, practically denying any change on the matter until next June.
 
While Palestinians and others may have breathed a sigh of relief, the issue is certainly not dead and will not easily go away.
 
However, what is most worrisome is that the Israelis are clearly willing to accept an offer by the Trump administration that could allow them to keep the status quo regarding the embassy in return for an even more biased US position in favour of Israel.
 
A sign of such a possibility was evident on the second working day of the Trump administration.
 
When the White House press secretary was asked to comment on the Israeli decision to build new settlements in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, he refused to take a stand.
 
Building settlements in the occupied territories has been consistently criticised by successive US administrations.
 
The United Nations Security Council resolved in December that all settlement building, including in East Jerusalem, is illegal and must stop.
 
When asked to comment, Spicer refused to make any comment on the Israeli settlement decision, saying that the issue will be discussed when Trump meets Netanyahu in February.
 
Palestinians have very low expectations from the Trump administration, which has not given many positive signals regarding a neutral US position on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
 
Palestinians need to stop having too many expectations from foreign sources and return to basics.
 
Palestinian national unity must be given the highest priority now, followed by an agreed and practical strategy for resistance.
 
The move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may have been temporarily delayed, but there is no guarantee that it will not be implemented in the coming months.
 
What Palestinians need to do is make sure that decisions that negatively affect the final outcome of the decades-long conflict are not predetermined by unilateral decisions like those of a superpower like the US.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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