Much ado about nothing

 
"Sound and fury signifying nothing"
 
Also relevant is Murray Edelman's Symbolic Uses of Politics.

The point of them all is that expressions or events that amount to little or nothing in a substantial or material way may move individuals to expressions of high emotion and extreme acts.
 
Death may come from nothing more than an insult.
 
And here we are in another kerfuffle--seemingly heated more than previous ones--over the location of the US Embassy. 
 
Donald Trump was the nth presidential candidate to promise Jewish voters and other supporters of Israel that the American Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
 
So far, but still short of inauguration, he seems the most serious. Or at least he did, until his nominee as Defense Secretary told a Senate committee that Israel's capital was Tel Aviv.
 
That became the lead story in Israeli media. It joined repeated threats by the Palestinian leadership that the Embassy's move would cause another Intifada, and maybe a regional war. Then Mahmoud Abbas expressed two of his frequent grand ideas by threatening to end Palestine's recognition of Israel, and calling on Vladimir Putin to use his influence on Trump to halt the Embassy's move..
 
A Jordanian official joined the fray, of course on the side of the Palestinians, but perhaps with no more seriousness than any other Arab expression against Israel in the context of widespread civil wars among Muslims.
 
For the Jordanians, an estimated 600,000 Syrian refugees in a country already hard pressed to maintain economic and/or political stability is likely to be more important than which plaque would be put on a building has served as the US "Consulate" in Jerusalem, or which designation would be applied to official documents issued in the building.
 
Israelis may be more confused than worried in pondering who expresses the policy of the coming US government toward Jerusalem, i.e., the Defense Secretary nominee, the President-elect, or the man nominated as US Ambassador to Israel. The Ambassador-designate caused wet dreams among Israeli rightists thinking that the Promised Land is all ours, and that substantial annexation would be acceptable to the world's greatest power.
 
Now some of those Israels may be wetting their pants due to the comments of the man likely to be  Defense Secretary.
 
"So what?" should be the rationalist's response to all of the above.
 
Yet it's not so simple.
 
One can guess that not too many people will die on account of what is done or even said about the location of the US Embassy, but some are likely to die. And even if many more are likely to be Palestinian than Israeli, their deaths will amount to personal tragedies.
 
It's also not so simple insofar as it is possible to argue in a reasonable fashion several sides of the question, "Where should the Embassy be?"
 
Involved here are UN resolutions from the 1940s, which some view as "international law," the stubborn and violent rejection of Israel's existence by generations of Arabs and Palestinians, and decisions by Israeli authorities and some 800,000 residents to locate on the wrong side of what others see as the country's borders.
 
While no major country other than Israel recognizes Jerusalem as the country's capital (or even as an Israeli city), there seem to be no officials of any important country who do not treat Jerusalem as Israel's capital. They meet with their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem, and have done all except declare the city as Israel's capital, and change the designation of their Foreign Office sites in Jerusalem to be their embassies rather than consulates. The US Ambassador has long had an apartment in Jerusalem to facilitate his frequent work in the city, along with his official residence in a Tel Aviv suburb.
 
General James Mattis, who is Trump's designated Defense Minister said that he met with Israeli officials in the government offices in Tel Aviv. 
 
It's hard to determine if he was being clever, politically motivated, ignorant, or incapable of formulating an answer that would keep things in line with Trump's comments.
 
The Defense Ministry is the lone government department that is located in Tel Aviv. Why? may be answered by the expense of moving a huge establishment with a considerable investment in technology from its present location, and finding a suitable site in Jerusalem that doesn't ruffle international feathers by being beyond the lines that pre-dated 1967.
 
If Mattis had  any formal meetings with Israeli officials other than the Defense Minister or personnel of the IDF, chances are that those meetings would have been in Jerusalem.
 
Will Trump do it? And if he does will the Palestinians embark on yet another self-destructive campaign of terror? And will other countries follow Trump and decide that a UN decision of the 1940s has been outmoded by seven decades of contrary reality?
 
If Trump does it, Israel will move a step closer to recognition of what it has accomplished in some 70 years since its independence. 
 
If he doesn't do it, Israel will remain as a stable, economically vibrant, militarily powerful country in the Middle East, as well as being the region's lone democracy. Given all of those traits, it is arguably as important to the foreign policies of the United States and Western Europe as those countries are important to Israel.
 
It's too early to know what Trump will decide, and what may result..
 
Meanwhile, birth certificates and passports issued to Americans by the Consulate in "Jerusalem" are no less valid than if they were issued by an Embassy in "Jerusalem, Israel."
 
And if major governments follow on the Vatican and a few other minor leaguers and recognize a State of Palestine, its residents will not have anything closer to a decent society than they have now.
 
Most Palestinians of Gaza have virtually no electricity, despite shipments of fuel from Israel. Their problem is not a material wherewithal, but a political quarrel between the Palestinians of Fatah and those  of Hamas.
 
Whatever happens with respect to this or that, and however many may die in the process, the advantage will remain with William Shakespeare and Murray Edelman. They provide all we need to know about the issues, without reference to Mahmoud Abbas or Donald Trump.
 
Comments welcome
-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Irashark@gmail.com 
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