Why haven’t more embassies moved to Jerusalem? - analysis

Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push, few countries have emulated the US move.

June 17, 2019 04:04
US SECRETARY OF State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedic

US SECRETARY OF State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US Embassy in Jerusalem in March. (photo credit: JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)


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The United States transferring its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s crowning achievement in his campaign for recognition of the city as Israel’s capital. His hope is that other countries will follow the example of the world’s superpower.

While Guatemala has also relocated its embassy to Jerusalem, and Moldova announced last week that it would do so, Netanyahu’s wish, however, has not come to fruition. Paraguay’s embassy was in Jerusalem for a few months in 2018 but returned to Tel Aviv after a change of government in the South American country.

Dr. Emmanuel Navon, senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, says this is because the political cost is too high.

“It’s not worth it to them. Most countries have too many interests in the Arab and Muslim world to make a move that is seen as hostile in those countries, and the benefits are too small,” Navon told The Media Line.

This is true even for countries like Brazil that have large Evangelical Christian populations that support Israel. President Jair Bolsonaro has mused publicly about transferring the embassy, but that has not happened.

“Even in Brazil, the pressure from Evangelicals is not enough for Bolsonaro to take that step,” Navon said.

Dr. Ofer Israeli, lecturer and senior research fellow at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, explains that in general, this could be explained by a concept in public policy known as path-dependence, where governments have an arduous time changing a policy once it has been established due to resistance by the beneficiaries of the status quo.

“When a country holds a policy, especially a foreign policy, it’s very difficult for them to change it if there isn’t a good reason to do that,” Israeli told The Media Line.

He added that many governments believed that relocating their embassies would exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Many countries truly believe that moving the embassy or recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel should be the result of negotiations between the two parties, and that moves like the US’s, with one-sided support, make the situation more complex to resolve,” he said.

Israeli further contends that western governments agree in most part with the Palestinian point of view of the conflict.

“The Palestinians are succeeding in selling their narrative that Jerusalem should be the capital of the future Palestinian state,” he told The Media Line. “[They believe] the [pre-]1967 lines should be the border between Israel and the Palestinian state, and that for them to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and/or move their embassy could make the situation more complicated.”

Israeli thinks more countries will move their embassies, but not those that are major players in the international arena.

“I think we can expect every year a few countries, most of them small, to move their embassies… countries that rely on the US or need Israel to reach Washington,” Israeli said. “The countries that already moved their embassies were under very intense American pressure. All of them are very small countries where [that] is effective to get them to change.”

Despite this, Navon argues that the US Embassy move has had a substantial global impact.

“One is better than none, and when that one is the world’s greatest power, it’s significant. It’s a precedent. It will take time for other countries to follow, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he told The Media Line.

Navon contends that for more countries to move their embassy, Netanyahu will have to make the case that doing so will not signify a political stance and follow President Donald Trump’s example in emphasizing that moving the embassy did not mean that the US was taking a position on borders or regulations for holy sites.

“Israel could and should make it clear to other countries that they are not taking a stance on those issues by moving those embassies,” Navon said. “Trump only recognized that the Israeli government is in Jerusalem; it’s the place where [most of] the ministries are.”

Navon explained that relocation to Jerusalem would be nothing new for some countries.

“Dozens of embassies were in Jerusalem before the 1967 war, and even some afterward [such as those of Chile and the Netherlands]. Most left in 1981, after the Knesset declared Jerusalem as the [unified] capital of Israel,” he said.

He added that Israel could convince more governments to move their embassy by garnering the support of Evangelicals abroad.

“The Israeli government should be in touch with those communities and encourage them to keep up the pressure on their governments to move their embassies,” he said.

The Lauder School’s Israeli said the 2020 US elections would play a role in whether more countries move their embassies, particularly with those that want American support.

“If President Trump is reelected, more countries will move their embassies. If a Democrat wins, the situation will change, and maybe those countries that already moved their embassies will go back and move their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv,” Israeli said.

Apparently, other nations view the American decision to move its embassy as being tied to the president rather than permanent US policy.

President Trump is the first American president to agree with Netanyahu that moving embassies to Jerusalem could encourage a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli stated.

“The US sent a message to the Palestinians that if you want to solve the conflict, you should understand that it is impossible for you to receive the entirety of what you are asking for; [you are not] going to get back the pre-1967 lines or Jerusalem as your capital, among other things [you] have been trying to achieve in the past,” he explained.

“The US brought a new perspective to the table,” he emphasized, “that Israel will receive almost all its demands, especially regarding security, and [in return] the Palestinians will get financial support.”

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line's Press and Policy Studies)

For more stories visit www.themedialine.org

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