Vice President Mike Pence the diminishing hope of many attendees at this week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference by announcing that the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem remains under “serious consideration.” But does the move make sense right now?
Contrary to longstanding State Department apprehension about an embassy relocation, doing so at this time would quench our allies’ thirst for an American re-commitment to leading in the Middle East. For the last eight years, America’s Sunni allies have watched in horror as the U.S. withdrew from the region.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the quest for a two-state solution were born in a different time and place. The nationalistic yearning of Palestinians, long presumed to have been the foundation of the two-state solution, has proven to have negligible depth. As the tidal wave of Islamist violence has torn mercilessly through the region, the roots of Palestinian enmity for Israel extend deeply into the ideology of radical Islam. A showed that 67 percent of Palestinians approved of the Hamas terror group’s barrage of rocket attacks on Israeli population centers in 2014.
The old State Department template further theorized that the perceived sense of communal violation by the “Arab street” could only be assuaged through the recognition of a Palestinian state. With that recognition, a magical elixir would have ushered in a new age of stability. This theory has also been refuted. As we have witnessed during the last five years, Muslim on Muslim violence by or onslaught—in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—has left an incomparable trail of heinous barbarity.
The body count of innocents is on track to exceed a million. Sunni nations condemned as blasphemous—by both Iranian Shi’a and Sunni Islamists—are aware that their fiefdoms have been targeted for destruction. Once lecturing condescendingly on the need for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, these leaders have handily leapfrogged over the lack of progress on that issue.
Today, Israel and the in a loosely confederated cooperative against radical Islam. This is not to say that they will embrace such an alliance publicly anytime soon, but Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states appreciate Israel’s deterrent capability. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has welcomed Israeli military support against the emerging threat posed by Hamas and Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula.
The last thing that Sunni sovereigns want is a failed Palestinian state. It was well-learned when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 that the neighborhood did not improve. Gaza almost instantaneously devolved into a launching pad for radical Islamists. Factor in the Palestinian Authority’s self-serving kleptocracy, and only a fool would gamble on the Palestinians’ ability to keep a state out of radical Islamists’ hands. And the Palestinians feel they deserve eastern Jerusalem as their capital? Not with that track record.
If there were ever an opportunity to ascend to an era of enlightened regional progress, this would be it. In the age of social media, which brought us the Arab Spring, the majority of Muslims who having witnessed Muslim on Muslim butchery up close, and who have rejected the rhetoric and ideology of radical Islam, may in fact be ready to accede to the fact that compared to radical Islam, Israel is a non-enemy. But Iran and its Hezbollah proxy, armed with Russian support, would be unfathomable enemies. American re-commitment to the region and to Israel might, within this context, be just enough to soften previously unmovable Arab opinion.
What concrete step would dramatically convey this American re-commitment, and put a scare into the Shi’a Islamists and their allies? Moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a strong start. Russia would be pushed back on its heels, and Iranian adventurism would be confronted.
The State Department’s ongoing predilection for the discriminatory lumping of Muslim-majority Sunni nations with radical Islamists would, for the first time, be directly challenged by the embassy move. Islamists may be infuriated in the short run, but more significantly, Sunni sovereigns—having feared that America abandoned them—will discern the full weight of American re-commitment, thereby giving them the latitude to combat Iran and radical Sunni Islamists with maximum vigor.
Andrew Lappin is a Chicago-based redeveloper and contributor to the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy group. Lappin serves on the board of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.