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Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Is a Bad Idea for Everyone—Except Israeli Hard-Liners and Their American Friends

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
January 29, 2017


When the two most influential leaders in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman and his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed, get together to discuss how Washington can demonstrate its renewed commitment to regional allies, it is a safe bet that moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not on their list.

Yet some supporters of the embassy move have made the opposite argument. They argue that after eight years during which Barack Obama is said to have weakened American commitment to its traditional Middle Eastern partners — Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab Gulf states — the Trump administration can quickly and decisively demonstrate its leadership and steadfast support to its allies by moving the American embassy. It is these kinds of ideas that have ideological appeal but ignore politics, history and reality. They are bound to get the United States (and Israel) in trouble in the Middle East yet again.

In general, the discourse about the Middle East in Washington is overly optimistic about the ability of the United States to shape events and control other actors. Almost 14 years ago, George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was supposed to be a “cakewalk” after which Iraqis would welcome the United States as its liberator. It did not work out that way, but that has not staunched the flow of oddly illogical justifications for self-defeating policies. Seizing Iraqi oil, as President Trump declared recently, and moving the American embassy from 71 HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, fit neatly into this category.

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