Oh, Jerusalem

When a move is more than a move.

Embassies are funny things.

Firstly, technically-speaking, they’re not buildings, they’re people. An ‘embassy’ is a permanent official diplomatic delegation, not the building in which they operate.

Secondly, the size and seniority of an embassy reflect the importance it places on a foreign country.

Thirdly, where an embassy is based speaks volumes. That’s why they’re invariably based in a foreign country’s capital.

Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital, although Jerusalem is the spiritual home to the Jewish nation. However, the eastern part of Jerusalem is also home to sites sacred to Christians and Muslims.

So, things are complicated.

Palestinians wish east Jerusalem to be completely separate, and the capital of a future Palestinian state. At the moment east Jerusalem is under the control of Israel, who annexed it in 1967. Palestinians have been protesting ever since.

If there is any possibility of peace between Israel and Palestinians, Jerusalem will be central to the negotiations. It’s also been expected that the U.S. will play the role of neutral mediator.

Not any more. When, in December last year, President Trump announced he was going to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he sided with Israel as recognising Jerusalem as its capital. Crucially, he also effectively scrapped the idea of a Palestinian state.

The new embassy was opened on Monday 14th May. The date chosen was also symbolic: the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.

Violent protests erupted in nearby Gaza, resulting in the deaths of over 60 Palestinians in a matter of days. The reaction wasn’t unexpected, and President Trump didn’t attend the opening. He sent his daughter instead.

However, what was interesting was the relatively muted reaction to the move from other Arab countries, while at the same time, understandably, registering shock at the horrifying loss of Palestinian lives.

It suggested a shift in Arab-Israeli relations.

Two days later, Guatemala inaugurated its embassy in Jerusalem. Ecuador is expected to do the same soon. Others will probably follow.

Trump’s move has changed the game in the Middle East; but don’t expect the Palestinians to play along.

[This article originally appeared in the publication Fox Bytes (you can view it here) and on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 21 May 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]

Image: Vector Portal