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Sunday, May 21, 2017

It is now apparent that Donald Trump will not keep his oft-repeated campaign (and post-campaign) promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

The whiplash from Trump's statement on the even of his inauguration "You know that I am not a person who breaks promises" to his waffling only a week later to the apparent decision to not move the embassy at this time is in line with the chaos that the White House is engulfed in daily.

According to Haaretz, in a story that seems credible, the battle over the issue is mostly between Trump's close advisors and his cabinet.

There is an irony here.

The promise of a Trump administration was to throw out the old playbook and question the conventional wisdom. And on the Middle East, this strategy has not been too bad so far - Arab leaders, anxious to get on Trump's good side, have been far more forthcoming in showing flexibility than they were under Obama's regime. The Arab plan floated to improve relations with Israel in the absence of even a full settlement freeze is, in many ways, a vindication of Trump's eagerness to reset the playbook and to embrace a regional alliance between Israel and Sunni states.

Even Mahmoud Abbas has made cosmetic conciliatory moves that he would never have done under Obama, whom he saw as someone who would put all the pressure on Israel for him.

The narrative of Israel as an occupier and the inevitability of a Palestinian state has been shaken by Trump, who still has not as far as I can tell uttered the words "Palestinian state."

Which is why his caving on the Jerusalem embassy issue is so disappointing.

The idea that the Arab street would erupt if the US moves the embassy is just another vapor threat, and Trump's vacillating on the issue has emboldened those whose entire careers have been built on threatening the West with violence if they don't get their way. Like Palestinian liar-in-chief Saeb Erekat, who said yesterday “We believe that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would mean the end of the peace process,”

The Green Line isn't the reason the US doesn't have the embassy in Jerusalem today. It is the longstanding and illogical US policy that Jerusalem itself is not part of Israel, a vestige of the 1947 partition plan where Jerusalem would be an international city under UN auspices, an idea which was dead already in 1948.

The Palestinian insistence on the issue is not based on international law or on anything real - just the old playbook of threatening violence when they don't get their way.

The willingness of Arab leaders to please Trump in the first months of his term was the exact time to make this move, to explode the myth of the Arab street once and for all.

Netanyahu is right that an embassy move would help peace. It would show that the US is not hostage to the threats of the Palestinians. An assertive stance from the beginning, instead of the early waffling, would have shut up the critics on this largely symbolic issue. Not moving the embassy shows the Palestinians that their old playbook of threats still works in Washington, which is the worst message that the Trump White House could ever give.

It was a missed opportunity by any measure.

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