From the minute Donald Trump, while still a candidate, promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, I have been asked repeatedly what I think the Arab and Muslim response to that move might be. My usual answer to this kind of question is that "I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet" - in the words of the biblical Amos - and my knowledge of the future is especially limited when talking about the quixotic and crisis-filled area known as the Middle East. Still, when the subject is Jerusalem, one can predict with a fairly high degree of certainty that there will be a good many complaints sounded from the Arab and Muslim world, threats will abound, and there may even be attempts against American complexes and American citizens in countries outside the USA. This could affect ambassadors and engineers, businessmen and media teams, anyone with US citizenship.
It didn't need the embassy move for this threat to appear. There are enough people out to take revenge on the USA for the change in its attitude towards Islam since the Trump victory, especially the connection he made between terror and radical Islam, a connection whose existence Obama absolutely refused to recognize. Trump also poses a threat to Muslim immigration to the USA, expressing the fears of not a few Americans regarding Muslim immigrants. Jerusalem is not the only member of the equation appearing on the side that includes Trump and the USA, when the Arab and Muslim world are on the other side of that equation.
Actually, the most important factor in the Washington government's deliberations on moving the embassy is how Trump sees the Jerusalem issue: If he views Jerusalem as the Jewish People's eternal capital, a place many Christians are drawn to, a city that the Muslims must accept as Israel's capital whether or not they like it and especially if they do not - then he would have moved the embassy to Jerusalem unhesitatingly, on the day he entered the White House. Reality, however, is more complex: as a seasoned businessman, Trump knows how to identify a successful deal, and how to avoid a high risk deal or one whose chances of failure are considerable.
There are clear signs that the new US president thinks in terms of "America First", meaning that the US intends to give up its position as the world's policeman, leave the myriad conflicts around the world to their legal owners and concentrate on itself, its problems and interests. With that mindset, Trump does not feel obligated to abandon positions taken by those who preceded him in the White House just because some American Jews and Israelis think he has to move the embassy to Jerusalem. True, he did promise to do so during his campaign, but so did his predecessors, and none of them kept that promise. What's the rush? He has four long years to keep that promise, which he may very well decide to keep before the elections for a second term, in order to win the support and votes of American Jews, most of whom did not support his election.
There are other consequences to the decision to move or not move the embassy: How will Israel relate to other presidential promises, such as security guarantees? What can Israel be offered in exchange for not moving the embassy - perhaps the US turning a blind eye to construction in Judea and Samaria? What kind of image will the world have of President Trump if he is seen as bowing to threats and blackmail? What other demands will the Arabs and Muslims raise once they see that he fears their threats? What will Putin, loyal to his friends, such as Assad, think about a president who does not keep his promises? How will American Muslims and those outside the US react to the embassy relocation? Will it motivate them to perpetrate terror attacks?
These questions exacerbate Trump's concerns that he might lose the ability to play the role of honest broker between Israel and its neighbors, who view Jerusalem as negotiable. To them, moving the embassy means taking a stand that makes the outcome of negotiations a victory for Israel on this matter. It should be noted that the embassy is supposed to be built on land purchased by the Americans years ago, that the residences meant for the embassy staff were built long ago and are rented out. The land is not in the eastern part of the city which the Palestinians demand for their capital, but that has no effect on their opposition to moving the embassy to the western part of the city. Does this make sense? Hardly, but rationality has long been absent from MIddle Eastern reality; if rational thinking had any effect on the situation, the nations of the world would have long since told the Arabs and Muslims that Jerusalem was the Jewish capital over 3000 years ago, way before the rest of the nations had any capital cities of their own.
The truth has to be said: Israel did not do enough to establish the fact that Jerusalem is its capital, to entrench that fact in world consciousness. There are several proofs of this: important government offices, among them the Defense Ministry, work out of Tel Aviv. As a result, just two weeks ago, we heard Trump's intended secretary of defense say at his congressional hearing that Israel's capital is Tel Aviv. After all, his meetings with the defense establishment of Israel take place in Tel Aviv. Israel spent billions on building the Defense Department complex in Tel Aviv, hardly an unimportant ministry.
Most visitors to Israel come by air. The main international airport is called Ben Gurion and on world flight maps, that airport is placed in Tel Aviv. The top of the terminal building should have "Welcome to JSM" on it in different languages, because Jerusalem is serviced by this airport. Instead, its symbol is TLV.This may seem inconsequential, simply technical, but it has significance, especially among decision makers who tend to do a great deal of flying.
And if we are already on the subject of Ben Gurion airport, may I point out a most embarrassing fact to Israel's decision makers: everyone who arrives at the airport walks along the terminal to passport control, passing through a long circular hall whose walls are covered with gigantic advertisements for beer. In Hebrew the word "bira" means an alcoholic beverage known as beer, but when pronounced emphasizing the second syllable, "bira" means capital city. How shameful!! Is this the way Israel should welcome visitors? Is this the message Israel wants them to get with their first steps in the holy land? Beer? That's what counts? Why not photos of the bira, Jerusalem? Or Israel's beautiful landscapes? Its people, cities, streets? Is there a shortage of things to be proud of? Just beer? That's the highest rung of the ladder? It was the Prophet Isaiah who said: "Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards..."
Another very important step is to change the Arabic name for Jerusalem on Israel's road signs. They now say "Al Quds," a relatively recent appellation. The classic name for Jerusalem, appearing countless times in the Muslim Hadith (Oral Law), is "Beit al Maqdes," and anyone who looks at the name realizes that it is taken from the words Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple. Israel has every right to use that name as it is the one that appears in the earliest Islamic sources. And Israel could simply transliterate the word "Jerusalem" into Arabic letters. After all, that is the city's name.
Another thing that could be done is to put large signs at the entrance of every church saying: "Welcome to Jerusalem the historic and eternal capital of Israel." These signs must appear in as many languages as possible: Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese. This is a fight for public awareness and these signs will help establish Jerusalem's standing to us, our neighbors and our visitors.
Unfortunately, there are people and organizations in Israel and the rest of the world - sadly including Jews and Israelis - who aspire to divide Jerusalem and give its eastern, sanctified area, to non-Jews whose holy city is Mecca. We have to put these people and organizations outside the Pale, where they belong, in the eastern section of the rubbish bin of the Israeli public sphere and that of the entire world.
It is important to remember that there were Israeli politicians who gave in to pressure and put Jerusalem on the negotiating table at which they sat with our hostile neighbors, something for which we are still sorry today. It is too much to expect from the world's nations and their leaders to see Jerusalem as the capital of Israel if we do not do everything in our power to establish its centrality as our capital. Once we do everything to prove to everyone that Jerusalem is eternally ours, there will be no reason for any country or leader to refrain from putting their embassy in the Eternal City.