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Nikki Haley's audacity: Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem Open in fullscreen

Rose Worden

Nikki Haley's audacity: Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem

Nikki Haley suggested Americans are the ones who have grown impatient with Jerusalem's status-quo [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 January, 2018

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Comment: Rather than 'advancing the cause of peace,' as Haley claims, Trump's decision reaffirms US complicity in Israel's violence against Palestinians, writes Rose Worden.
The United States recently put in motion a decision to relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, amid international and domestic resistance.

Yet, United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has suggested that Americans are the ones who have grown impatient with the status quo and deserve to see their embassy moved, the simple fulfilment of a sovereign right.

Since the move was first announced, Haley appeared to caution that a pending $285 million reduction of United States funding to the UN was the consequence for UN members' intransigence on the issue.

How is it that political decisions taken at the international level reflect the will of a shrinking demographic of Evangelicals and staunch Zionists, most of whom will never require embassy services, at risk of inciting international tensions and local violence?

Haley's suggestion that American opinion should be allowed to upset the sensitive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians is audacious and dangerous.

On 8 December 2017, Haley sat before an emergency session of the UN Security Council and articulated the United States' belligerent departure from the norm. Most countries either do not have any formal diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, or have missions there that are specific to the city.

Haley's insistence that the international outcry was overblown has been met with further dissent among UN member states

Haley's suggestion that moving the embassy would recognise the reality on the ground - that America puts its embassies in state capitals unexceptionally, therefore including Jerusalem - denies the decades of exceptional treatment the international community has practiced in this sensitive context.

When Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, the United States opposed the move and still maintains rhetorically that Jerusalem's sovereignty should be decided between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In a representative poll taken in November, an overall minority of voters, with only a slim majority among Republicans, supported immediately moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite the general bipartisan tide of American public support for Israel.

In her statement to the Security Council, Haley presented the decision to move the embassy both as implementing a policy put forth by the US congress in 1995, and as a moral issue of which the United States, as Israel's ally, has a profound stake.

Criticisms that the decision breached decades of sensitivity in international norms were met with the matter-of-fact conjecture that moving the embassy would neither prejudge the outcome of talks, nor impact any future designation of the status of Jerusalem, a city divided along Palestinian and Israeli lines, which both Israelis and Palestinians aspire to have as their capitals.

In taking the decision, Haley remarked, the United States would no longer stand by "when Israel is unfairly attacked in the United Nations, and, the United States [would] not be lectured to by countries that lack any credibility when it comes to treating both Israelis and Palestinians fairly".

Haley's insistence that the international outcry was overblown has been met with further dissent among UN member states in a nearly universal vote of condemnation.

The political foundation for her position stems from legislation introduced in 1995, by Republican Senator from Kansas, Robert J. Doyle to establish the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which stipulated that: (1) Jerusalem remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic religious group are protected; (2) Jerusalem be recognised as the capital of the State of Israel; and (3) the US Embassy in Israel be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.

The bill passed in the Senate 93 to 5 and 374-37 in the House.

At the time, prominent Senators from both parties, Joe Biden (D Delaware) and Dianne Feinstein (D California) among them, advocated for the move in a show of support to Israel, often characterised as the lynchpin of the Middle East for its role as a regional security partner, and close ally of the United States.

Feinstein's words capture the seemingly bewildered impatience allegedly felt among the American public at the time.

"The United States has an absolute right to place its embassy in any capital city. Clearly, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. We need no one's permission to do so and we need no piece of legislation to do so.

"This issue has been one that has percolated for a long, long time, with a great deal of impatience on the part of many people, who say 'why hasn't the embassy been relocated to Jerusalem prior to this time?' … I, like most Americans believe that the United States' embassy should be located in Jerusalem."

That the embassy has not moved until now has been the result of a political process put in place simultaneously with the Jerusalem Embassy Act, whereby every six months the president may choose to further delay its implementation for another six-month period.

All incoming US administrations have since made overtures to Israel, including tentative promises to implement the Act. Once in office, every administration has relied on the delaying provision to prevent its execution.

In 2013, Republicans introduced legislation in the House and Senate to remove the presidential waiver responsible for this perpetual delay.

When Donald Trump in 2016 campaigned on the promise to fulfil the terms of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, like his predecessors, he cited the inaction of Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama in following through in its enactment.

The following year, on 30 November 2017, US Congressman Matt Gaetz (R Florida) called on President Trump not to invoke the waiver, admonishing the Palestinian Authority to stop denying Israel's existence and become a "partner in peace". A ridiculous statement, considering the origin of the Palestinian Authority as a product of the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization).

Read more: Ahed Tamimi, an inconvenient hero

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D New York) advised the president to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and to proceed with relocating the embassy to Jerusalem. Notably, senator Dianne Feinstein's new opposition to the policy indicates a responsible evolution of opinion on this issue since her initial statement in 1995.   

Within a matter of days, President Trump announced his decision to ignore the waiver in a punchy if slurred statement, sparking outcry from world leaders and regional experts. Nikki Haley stepped up to defend  the decision in front of the UN Security Council:

"The Jewish people are a patient people. Throughout 3,000 years of civilization, foreign conquest, exile and return, Jerusalem has remained their spiritual home. For nearly 70 years, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the state of Israel, despite many attempts by others to deny that reality.

"The American people are less patient. For 22 years, the American people have overwhelmingly supported that position and they have waited, and waited. This week, President Trump finally made the decision to no longer deny the will of the American people."

Rather than "advancing the cause of peace," as she claimed the decision was meant to accomplish, Haley reaffirmed the United States' complicity in Israel's wildly asymmetric violence against the Palestinian people.

Haley reaffirmed the United States' complicity in Israel's wildly asymmetric violence against the Palestinian people

In response to protests on the ground, Israeli soldiers have killed at least four Palestinians, including a disabled man who had lost his legs in a previous Israeli strike, and was shot to death holding a Palestinian flag.

Israeli forces have made hundreds of arrests in the days since, including of children. These outcomes were predictable; the Israeli state has not deviated in its approach here from the regular violence it inflicts upon Palestinians.

The announcement has also predictably been interpreted by Palestinians as indicative of the advantage held by Israel - whose continued policies of settlement and containment have assured a position of strength - jeopardising Palestinian confidence in the neutrality of the United States as peace negotiator. Haley addressed this concern in a patronising tone, displaying ignorance of existing power dynamics. 

"Our actions reflected an honest assessment of reality. … To those who do not act in good faith, to any person, leader, country, or terrorist group that uses this week's decision as a pretext for violence, you are only showing yourselves to be unfit partners of peace." she commented.

What explains the persistent impatient desire, referred to by Nikki Haley, and expressed by US politicians and their constituents for decades, to defend Israel, given the predictable bloodshed and loss of confidence in a peace process that has been stagnant for decades? Moreover, why are Americans prone to overlook conflict statistics which suggest Israel to be the least fit partner of peace?

Gallup has charted American sentiment toward Israel for years. In 2016, 62 percent of Americans polled viewed Israel in a positive light, versus 15 percent who viewed Palestinians favourably.

In 2016, 62 percent of Americans polled viewed Israel in a positive light, versus 15 percent who viewed Palestinians favourably

As a group, evangelical Christians represent the strongest block of support to Israel in the United States, surpassing American Jews in their support. This can be explained at least in part by the prominent belief that the Jews must return to Israel, viewed as their rightful homeland, as a precursor to the second coming of Jesus.

Some evangelical voices of moderation, and Christian perspectives from the region offer important nuance to this interpretation of history, albeit less common than the effusive support still dominant in the American evangelical mainstream.

Organisations such as "If Americans Knew" attempt to target an American audience with unbiased statistics, but these are a minority. It is irresponsible for American politicians to continue suggesting that any decisions taken with regard to the placement of its embassy or the formal recognition of Jerusalem as a unified capital of Israel, is not pre-judging the outcome.

It seems to be a uniquely American problem that targeted domestic fervour can translate so readily into the creation of havoc in other regions, triggering direct violence against ordinary people, while easing the conscience at home that America is acting in the people's interest.

As Nikki Haley continues relying on American might to defend so-called US interests at the United Nations, it will not be sufficient for American voters to take issue with boutique issues when they arise, such as the placement of an embassy.

As long as blanket, bipartisan support for Israel - including direct support to the same military committing atrocities, continues - the result will always be further aggression against a subjugated people whose allies are few.

Rose Worden is a researcher and writer based in New York. She holds a Master's Degree in International Affairs from The New School and is focused on development and security in the Horn of Africa and MENA.

Follow her on Twitter @rswrdn

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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