Saudi Journalist: The U.S. Has The Right To Choose Its Embassies’ Locations; The Move To Jerusalem Is An Opportunity For The Arabs To Renew Negotiations

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Source: Middle East Media Research Institute, May 15, 2018

On May 15, 2018, the day after the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Saudi journalist Amal ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Hazzani called on Arabs and Palestinians to come to terms with reality and to take advantage of the event to renew negotiations with Israel. In an article in the London-based Saudi Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, Al-Hazzani claimed that even if this is a sorrowful event, the U.S. has the right to decide where to situate its embassies, and notes that the embassy is located in West Jerusalem, to which the Arabs have no claims.

Ms. Al-Hazzani writes that the Arabs must understand that U.S. President Trump is acting in accordance with his own legitimate considerations, not according to their expectations, and that just as his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal stem from his desire to protect his Arab allies, so does his decision to move the embassy stem from his desire to protect his ally Israel. She urges the Arabs and Palestinians to act bravely and wisely, and even to leverage the move into a relaunch of negotiations with Israel – for this is likely a one-time opportunity.  

The following are translated excerpts from her article:

“Washington chose May 14, 2018, which was yesterday, as the date to open its embassy in Jerusalem… No doubt this is painful news. The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have expressed their position clearly, i.e. that East Jerusalem belongs to the Arabs… The Palestinians will hold protest demonstrations, as will some Israelis who also condemned this step, because they see it as widening the gap between the sides and reducing the chances for peace…

“The general picture looks bleak, but we must always seek the glimmers of light in the darkness, which provide hope that the light will burn brighter in the future…

“The Arabs, both Muslims and Christians, believe that their part of Jerusalem is its eastern part, which encompasses Al-Aqsa Mosque – the first direction of prayer – and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At all the international conferences and forums, the Arabs did not talk about all of Jerusalem, but about its eastern part, and this is an incontestable right.

“From the first moment Trump announced the transfer of the [U.S.] embassy to Jerusalem, it did not occur to me, and it almost certainly did not occur to anyone else, that he [Trump] would feud with the Muslims and Christians over East Jerusalem, because he understands that area’s sanctity [to them], and the ramifications of any blow to it, whether on the political level or on the level of civil peace in the region. For this reason, he chose a remote building in West Jerusalem, in an area that has been a demilitarized zone between Israel and Jordan since 1949, and that following the Arab defeat in 1967 became part of the occupied lands.

“In principle, the U.S. has the sovereign right to choose the locations of its diplomatic buildings. However, as the most powerful country in the world, whose presidents have for decades been handing the role of peace [process] mediator on from one to the other, this step constituted a blow [to this process], because of [the U.S.’s] bias towards one side [in the conflict and] against the other.

“There are two things that the Arabs must understand well: First, that Trump will not backtrack, and [second,] that he has [his own] considerations with respect to Israel, which is a very good friend [of the U.S.]. Just as he took a courageous step to defend the Arabs against the hostile Iranian influence in spite of the [opposing] stance of his European allies, so today he is doing [something] that will protect his ally Israel. Washington need not behave according to the expectations of the Arabs, and especially of the Palestinians, who haven’t even managed to unite themselves; [even] the problem of Jerusalem was not reason enough [for them] to consolidate their ranks. Just as we have our own considerations, so does Washington.

“This doesn’t mean that its positon regarding its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement [with Iran] was in exchange for moving its embassy to Jerusalem. But in the final analysis, it [the U.S.] is obligated to protect its allies, that are diverse in origin, ideology, and political [positions].

“What can the Arabs do…  [now] that Washington has made two fateful decisions – to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and to move its embassy to West Jerusalem? With respect to the first decision, we congratulate and support it [the U.S.]. Especially when we see how the fear has seeped into Iran following the Israeli attack on it in Syria a few days ago, to the extent that it announced that it wasn’t connected to the attack on the Israeli bases in the Golan… and in addition, the sanctions [on Iran] are expected to be reinstated, one after the other, and thus will end two sweet years during which Tehran enjoyed a free hand in everything concerning its wild behavior and [its] fanning of conflict.

“As for the Arab position on [the transfer of] the U.S. Embassy to West Jerusalem, the wise [approach]… would be to see it as a motive for rushing to negotiate – not the opposite. A state of rage that engenders rejection and entrenchment has not been effective in the past, and will not be effective in the future. If the Palestinian leadership has the courage and wisdom to overlook the issue of the embassy move, and to force serious negotiations [upon Israel], then that will be a step that Israel has not prayed for, and this will shame it before the international community.

“The Arabs can declare East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinians. Even if this is not feasible, an attempt to raise this issue unilaterally in negotiations with Trump is likely to revive the trust between the two sides. Even though U.S. President Donald Trump dared to move the embassy, this doesn’t contradict the fact that he is a strong, decisive man, and this may be an opportunity that will not come again for the Palestinians and the Arabs.”[1]

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 15, 2018.