Is moving an embassy worth dying for?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since Donald Trump’s inauguration last Friday.
President Trump’s campaign promised to move America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and there were rumours the move could happen immediately.
Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem, released cringeworthy videos thanking the new president for his promise. Israelis were excited that, after decades of promises, the US would take a big, symbolic step towards recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
But there were also fears — and not just worries about how an embassy will create new traffic jams. Palestinian leaders threatened violence if the US embassy moves, and the Israeli security services believe them.
Jerusalem has seen stabbings, car rammings and shootings during these last few years, particularly after trigger events. If the embassy moves, people will probably die. Some of those people might be friends of mine, or family — or even me.
Is that fear a reason to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv? I hope not.
Jerusalem is Israel’s capital city. Even countries who think East Jerusalem is “occupied” should acknowledge that the rest of the city is indisputably part of Israel.
The weird refusal of countries to have Jerusalem embassies is anachronistic and wrong.
However, the abstract question feels different when there are real lives on the line.
Both the hopes and the worries were premature. No announcement came.
When asked, the White House said “no decision” had been made to move the embassy, and it was at “the very early stages of [the] decision-making process”.
Israelis should not have been surprised. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and both Bushes promised to move the embassy when running for president. They all changed their minds once they entered the Oval Office.
Congress passed a law in 1995 saying that the embassy must automatically move to Jerusalem unless the president signs a waiver every six months.
The delay may actually help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keep control of coalition members to his right who want to annex settlements like Ma’ale Adumim.
For the last eight years, Mr Netanyahu could use the threat of pressure from President Obama to rein them in. Now, he’s arguing that annexation could anger President Trump and stop him from moving the embassy.
This delay is only temporary, though.
In May, President Trump will have to decide whether to sign the waiver officially delaying the move again.
If he does sign, it will be clear his promises were no different than those of his predecessors.
Arieh Kovler is a political consultant from London who made aliyah to Jerusalem