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Trump plan for Jerusalem embassy blunts US peace push


ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election. Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

Donald Trump. Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem signals an end to Washington’s efforts to cajole its ally into giving up occupied land to a Palestinian state.

Under President Barack Obama, the United States has insisted the only viable solution to the conflict is for two states to be recognized, based on the former 1967 border with mutually agreed land swaps.

In David Friedman, Trump has nominated an ambassador who backs Israeli settlement building and intends to make good on the president-elect’s plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s “eternal capital.”

The Palestinians regard east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv before a final agreement on the conflict would cause outrage in the Arab world.

The head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Saeb Erekat said Friday that the status of the city is yet to be decided and that moving the embassy now would “be the destruction of the peace process.”

Trump may not formally abandon US support for an eventual “two-state solution” but Washington will likely not press its Israeli ally to make difficult concessions to revive the moribund peace process.

– Land swaps –

Obama signed the largest military aid pact in US history, ensuring close support for at least a decade, and Israel’s first new generation F-35 stealth fighter jets were delivered this week.

This despite Obama’s often testy relationship with Israeli’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, de facto recognizing the divided city as Israel’s capital, Trump would also give up another possible means of leverage — should he ever wish to use one.

In June, Trump’s future ambassador Friedman told the Haaretz newspaper that the president-elect believes it should be Israel’s choice whether or not to give up any land to Palestinian authorities.

“He does not think it is an American imperative for it to be an independent Palestinian state,” Friedman, who was the then candidate’s adviser on Middle East relations, told the Israeli paper.

In the interview, Friedman said it was not even clear how many Palestinians live on the West Bank and that there are parts of the territory that “will stay part of Israel in any peace deal.”

It has long been assumed that some of the major Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem would remain in Israeli hands even under a two-state solution.

But, as outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry reminded a conference of American and Israeli policymakers last week, the new border between the states was to have been mutually agreed.

In a strikingly frank interview that underlined his frustration with Netanyahu’s government, Kerry noted that Republican and Democratic US administrations have both favored “1967 plus swaps” for decades.

“I think you have to do that by negotiating, ultimately, by reaching an accommodation that meets the needs of the parties,” he argued.

– America’s reputation –

Friedman’s appointment still needs confirmation by the US Senate, which it is likely to secure despite an appeal to lawmakers from the liberal American Jewish pressure group J Street.

“This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the group, which supports the peace process.

But Jonathan Schanzer, Middle East scholar and vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, said the embassy switch could be carried out simply.

There is already a US consulate in the city, where the new ambassador could put a new sign on the door, and in any case policy would continue to be set in Washington, not by the ambassador himself.

“The symbol would be strong but it would not mean changing the landscape of Jerusalem as such,” Schanzer told AFP.

That said, he added: “For now it’s safe to say that the entire resettlement policy of the Obama administration will likely soften under Trump.”

Trump’s spokesman Jason Miller made clear on Friday that Friedman has the president-elect’s full support and that the plan to move the embassy will stand.

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