Why the US embassy relocation is a mixed blessing for Israel

May 16, 2018 12:29
Senior White House Adviser Ivanka Trump and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stand next to a plaque during the dedication ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14. Photo: Reuters

As Israel is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its statehood, the Jewish state has received a very special gift from the United States: opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem, a move that is tantamount to officially recognizing the city as the Israeli capital.

The US embassy opening ceremony was, however, largely shunned by the rest of the international community, with none of the major powers such as China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia sending any representative to attend the event.

It is because US President Donald Trump's highly controversial and unwelcome decision to move his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has provoked such a backlash from both the Arab world and his western allies that many world leaders felt there was generally nothing worth celebrating.

In fact not only are other major powers, but even some famous Jewish figures themselves are also dismayed at the tough attitude the Israeli government holds toward the Palestinian people.

For example, prominent Hollywood actress Natalie Portman, an ethnic Jew who was born in Israel, has recently declined to accept the Genesis Prize, the Israeli equivalent of the Nobel Prize, as a form of protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hostile policy objectives.

Ironically, just as the opening ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem was underway, a bloody “sideshow” took place at the same time at the border along the Gaza Strip, in which Israeli soldiers opened fire on some 35,000 Palestinian protesters, leaving at least 58 dead and more than 2,500 wounded.

It has been the worst Israeli–Palestinian conflict since 2014.

The relationship between Israel and Palestine is complicated. Jerusalem is considered a holy place by Judaists, Christians and Muslims simultaneously. And for decades, sovereignty over the holy city has remained a major bone of contention between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

As such, we believe Trump’s obstinate insistence on moving his embassy to Jerusalem only served to further fuel the existing tension in the Middle East on one hand, and alienate his allies, especially the European ones, on the other.

Adding to the problem is the recent US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which, along with the renewed controversies over the status of Jerusalem, is simply exacerbating the already chaotic and volatile situation in the Middle East.

All in all, the opening of the new US embassy is indeed nothing more than a mixed blessing for both Netanyahu and his country.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 15

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal