By Rahul Gupta
The White House Press Secretary Sean Spencer on the 23rd of January explained that the proposed relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem was in the beginning stages of discussion. That such relocation is even being mooted shows an evolution in International consensus surrounding Israel and Palestine.
The Holy city
If President Trump goes forward with moving the embassy to Jerusalem, it will de-facto legitimise Israeli control over the city. The UN in its original plan recognised the historical and spiritual significance of Jerusalem. Accordingly, the proposal was for Jerusalem to be a truly ‘international city’. Things however did not go according to plan. Jordan by the end of the First Arab-Israeli  controlled the eastern half of the city and Israel controlled the western half. During the six-day war Israel was able to break through the ceasefire line established in 1949, dubbed the ‘green line’ and took control of the whole city.
Both the state of Israel and the proposed state of Palestine claim Jerusalem as their undivided capital. The state of Israel passed a law that declared Jerusalem its capital. It was a move that invited a UNSC resolution condemning Israeli settlement of the west bank. Israel post the six-day war has allowed the continual settlement of the West Bank. Jewish townships and villages dot the West Bank, in what Palestine sees as an affront to among other things its territorial integrity.
USA: Intent and opportunity
Donald Trump seems poised to disrupt the status quo. Trump has on multiple occasions stated that he is pro-Israel. This position seems to manifest itself with the appointment of David Friedman. Friedman is a strong supporter of Israel; he supports the Jewish settlements and the one-state policy. Mr Friedman, a former bankruptcy consultant to President Trump, holds views that violate basic tenants of International Law.
Mr. Trump also reiterated his pro-Israel views when the UNSC passed resolution condemning Jewish settlements.
The relocation of the embassy could be a defining moment for Israel-Palestine relations. A 1995 law passed by the US Congress was called the Jerusalem Embassy Act. It provided for the initiation and funding for the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The law however has never been pressed into action. Successive presidents have failed to implement the law citing concerns of national security. A strongly pro-Israel, hawkish Donald Trump has the ability to implement this law when faced with the opportunity to review it. The fact that Congress had already passed this bill a decade ago will give Trump the ability to implement the law with minimal expenditure of political capital and shape outcomes in the region.
An incoming apartheid
Intent not withstanding, two major challenges stands in the way of relocation. First, the move will permanently erode consensus that territory cannot be acquired militarily. Second, it will likely lead to the end of the one state solution. The State of Palestine is likely to abandon the 2-state solution framework for negotiations.
This in absence of a worthy alternative will lead to a sort of ‘Greater Israel’.
One where the Palestinian population is left to self-govern with a minimal standard of rights in comparison with the Jewish settlers. This apartheid type situation and the inadmissibility of territories acquired by law both, are significant departure from International consensus and likely to generate severe blowback and isolation.
Israel: Intent and opportunity
Many in Israel believe the move to be a long time coming. They highlight the long connection between the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem. Certain opinion dictates that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and consequently, embassies ought to be shifted. Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, considered right wing by many may attempt to score political brownie points by promoting the relocation. The relocation will play well with the religious nationalists in the country.
The relocation of the US embassy isn’t a priority amongst the right-wingers in Israeli politics. They care more about expanding settler’s rights in the West Bank, than a purely symbolic move like the relocation. They are likely to view the relocation, as not worth the trouble, as despite security threats, the status quo is kinder to Israel than to Palestine. Apart from the challenges associated with a departure from the international consensus, more so given the recent UNSC resolution, this perspective is understandable. The move is also likely to create more tension within the region. An Iraqi anti-US cleric has claimed that the move will be interpreted as a war on Islam. It is likely that radical elements and regimes in the Middle East are likely to view it as the same. Creating an environment of security risk for the Israel.
Future of the two-state solution
Irrespective however, the two-state solution seems further away than ever. Successive US governments have tried and failed its implementation. As John Kerry pointed out, the right-wingers in Israel have not shown any inclination towards negotiating the two-state solution at the threshold. A gradual drift towards a one-state solution seems like the most obvious outcome, unless Israel can be coerced otherwise. The relocation of the embassy will erode any consensus on any solution. This is one of the early challenges the Trump administration faces, on can only hope they act with responsibility, integrity and with an emphasis on human rights.