United States to Move its Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem and Potential Regional Travel Risks
7 Dec 2017
On 06 December 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced an intension to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Trump is following through with a pledge made during the US Presidential Elections in 2016. According to reports, on 05 December, Trump informed Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian political leaders of his intention to move the Embassy.This move has been widely criticised by the international community. Unrest has already been reported in the region and there is the fear that this new policy will lead to widespread and violent demonstrations.
- President Trump has announced that the US is to move its Israeli Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
- This move breaks with established norms and has been strongly criticised by nations in the Middle East and US allies around the world.
- This action by the United States has led to unrest in not only the Occupied Palestinian Territories but also across the Muslim world; further violence and disruption is expected.
Political: On 06 December 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced an intension to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Trump is following through with a pledge made during the US Presidential Elections in 2016. According to reports, on 05 December, Trump informed Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian political leaders of his intention to move the Embassy.
This move has been widely criticised by the international community. Unrest has already been reported in the region and there is the fear that this new policy will lead to widespread and violent demonstrations.
The move will not be immediate, however, as the infrastructure at the current US Consulate in Jerusalem is inadequate at this time. Finding a new site for the Embassy may take months or years.
Solace Global comment
Why is the move so controversial?
Jerusalem is an important city for three of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Despite Israel claiming Jerusalem as its capital, most countries recognise Tel Aviv (Israel’s commercial hub) instead, while also maintaining Consulates in the holy city. Palestinians state Jerusalem to be its capital and hope it will be installed as so in any future Palestinian future state. Palestine also maintains a territorial claim on East Jerusalem, taken by the Israelis by force during war in 1967; many nations around the world and many international organisations continue to state Israeli occupation of eastern Jerusalem to be illegal. The status of Jerusalem has historically been one of the largest stumbling blocks in peace negotiations.
Given all of the potential downsides of this move, it is not 100 per cent clear why President Trump has chosen to go through with it. Legislation passed in the US Congress in 1995 requires the country’s State Department to justify not moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv. Every six months from that year, the US President has been forced to sign a waiver, effectively delaying the move. Presidents Clinton and Bush both flirted with the prospect of not signing the waiver but always eventually did (President Obama never publicly considered it). Although President Trump did sign the waiver earlier this year, he has now let it expire.
Part of this has to do with President Trump’s domestic agenda. Many commentators have noted that 2017 has not been a year of highs for President Trump. His administration has found it difficult to get a number of its election promises off the ground despite his Republican Party having control of the White House and both Houses of Congress. Trump was unable to overturn the Affordable Care Act (or ‘Obamacare’) to significant extent and until the recent rolling out of the Republican tax plan, his greatest achievement was confirmation of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court. The decision to move the Embassy may lay in the fact that Trump is hoping for a ‘win’ to appease his conservative base.
The decision by President Trump has been criticised by countries in the Middle East and a number of US allies. However, since he began running for the presidency, Trump has espoused an ‘America first’ foreign policy position; it is unclear how much he will listen to the pleas of such nations. Once again, for better or worse, Trump has shown a willingness or desire to depart from established norms in the realm of international relations and disrupt traditional US alliance systems, breaking with the traditions of former Presidents from both the Republican and Democratic parties.
The EU’s foreign police chief, Federica Mogherini, used the occasion of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Brussels to lambast the decision and the current US foreign policy positions as a whole. Saudi Arabia, who have grown closer to the US after a difficult relationship with his predecessor, warned of “gravely negative consequences”. A key NATO ally, Turkey, has threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Israel, relations which were only reconciled in 2016 after a six-year diplomatic spat. Jordan, one of the most western friendly-countries in the region and custodian of Palestinian holy sites, warned of the threats to security and stability and that it could undermine the peace process.
Reports in the US press suggest that neither the country’s Defence nor State Department are prepared or enthused by the decision of President Trump to move the Embassy. At present, the US has dispatched additional teams of US Marines to several embassies in the Middle East, fearing violence. Indeed, a number of US diplomatic missions have suspended services according to reports.
There are also fears that this move could be exploited by terror groups including Islamic State and Al Qaeda to show that the US and Israel are waging war on Islam. The action may also lead to attacks or attempted attacks, on US Embassies and Consulates, as well as individual American citizens throughout the Muslim world.
This action by the Trump administration may prove to be the ignition to heighten threats on Israel’s borders. Gaza appears to be in the middle of a humanitarian and security crisis, with basic utilities strained and reaching breaking point. There is the potential that this move provides the impetus for a social implosion and the resumption of conflict. In the West Bank, the political leadership led by Mahmoud Abbas is weak. The moving of the US Embassy may lead to his downfall. In the past, unrest in the region has been redirected from Israel to the Palestinian leadership. If he does maintain his position, Abbas may feel politically unable to participate in any future peace negotiations. Should Abbas fall, the leadership which takes over in the West Bank may demonstrate less conciliatory positions towards the US, Israel, and peace negotiations.
The reaction of Syria and Lebanon may also prove to be important. Lebanon is home to the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group. Some reports suggest that Hezbollah has increased its military arsenal in recent years and given the recent non-resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister, the country remains unstable. These are just some of the factors which could lead to the resumption of war between Israel and Lebanon There are also fears that Iran may establish a permanent base in Syria as the civil war draws to a close. Given Israeli-Iranian hostility, in the longer-run, this could lead to conflict.
In the end, it is the reaction of Sunni nations in the region which will probably define the full impact of this move. In the face of an increasingly assertive Iran, Sunni nations, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE (which do not recognise Israel diplomatically), have formed a stronger relationship with Israel, closer than any time in their histories. Longer-term stability may be assured if the Sunni nations in the region believe it is within their interest to not react to this move by the United States. They may take the view that it is more in their interest to have Israel on their side in opposition to Iran, than it is to make economic and diplomatic soundings about the Palestine state.
Could this be a positive move?
While many commentators and global political leaders have criticised the move for a number of reasons, there is the potential for this to become a positive move. President Trump has made Middle East peace an important issue, putting his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of finding a breakthrough in negotiations between Palestine and Israel. In the short-term, instability should be expected, but in the longer-term this may assist in negotiations. This may give the US (and to an extent Israel) another card to play during peace negotiations, a bargaining chip. While there is the potential (and indeed, hope) that President Trump is playing the long game, many commentators do not hold out much hope, especially given President Trump has been accused of making other short-sighted foreign policy decisions since moving into the White House. Indeed, it has been suggested that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem effectively disqualifies the US from serving as a peace broker between Palestine and Israel.
Travellers throughout the Middle East and in the wider Muslim world are advised of an increased level of threats in the short- to medium-term. Significant protests have already been reported outside of US Embassies in Amman in Jordan and Ankara, Turkey against this policy. In Gaza and West Bank, Palestinian groups have already called for strikes and protests. It is possible that Israeli forces will forcefully repress such unrest. Indeed, violent clashes have already been reported in Ramallah and Bethlehem. All protests should be avoided as, despite initially seeming peaceful, they have the potential to turn violent.
US Embassies across the Muslim world have issued warnings to its citizens of the need for caution and to maintain awareness of personal security. US diplomatic services are likely to be reduced over the coming days and weeks as the full impact of the moving of the US Embassy in Israel becomes clear. Significant travel disruption is to be expected within the vicinity of US Embassies; these areas should be avoided if possible.
In Israel, security has already been enhanced at key sites in Jerusalem and across the country, particularly at border crossings. Travellers should note the importance of fully adhering to the instructions of security services. Border crossings may close with little prior notice. It is also important to note that locations where security forces are located are often targeted for terror attacks. The number and severity of such attacks may increase due to this decision by the US.
Travellers in Muslim-majority countries should remain discreet and employ an enhanced level of vigilance. It is also important that travellers review their security and evacuation plans, especially if the security situation significantly deteriorates.
It is advisable that all non-essential travel to the Occupied Palestinian Territories should be delayed in the short-term, in order to understand the impact of the new US Government policy. Solace Global would advise of the importance of careful and in-depth journey management planning if visiting these areas. While exact security recommendations depend on developments and specific areas of travel, airport meet and greet assistance, security-trained drivers, and a low-profile vehicle should be employed as a minimum security level. Executive close protection is also a consideration. Furthermore, travel tracking is strongly recommended for travel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This will serve as an added measure to ensure travellers are safe and secure, kept informed of the current situation or to assist in identifying their location in the event of an emergency.
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