Editorial | Diplomacy and the Law of Unintended Consequences


Not too long ago, one of my older sons desperately wanted a Nintendo DS. For those of you who are not gamers or are without young children, it’s a handheld video game console — think a Game Boy, but on steroids.

His mother and I, like all good parents not wanting to appear overly indulgent, tied the acquisition of the device to his behavior. We thought that the positive reinforcement of reward would not only provide the jolt our son needed, but propel us to consideration for parents of the year.

Our son, who has always been a good kid, made an improvement in the area we were looking for, and he got his prize. Watching the smile on his face as he learned how to use the toy, my wife and I put our arms around each other and basked in the smug satisfaction that we knew what we were doing. (With eight children in the house, you take the victories, however small, as they come.)

Several months ago, we found out that for the Nintendo DS to really shine, it needs to be connected to the Internet. A month after that, we learned how to use the parental control functions judiciously. And we still haven’t sufficiently accounted for the desire of everyone else in the household to use the device. Such is the law of unintended consequences.

Raising children typically is not an exercise in the conduct of foreign policy, but the same law of unintended consequences that can turn a well-laid plan of parental benevolence into the chaos of the average American home can make the well-intentioned and completely justified act of an ally — say, by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — the pretense by which the conflict of an entire region gets worse instead of better. And the cynical threats of Jordan and the Palestinians aren’t even half the problem.

Make no mistake, I believe this country should move its mission in Israel from Tel Aviv to the country’s capital, and sooner rather than later. But if the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump — whose advisors have said he considers making good on the campaign promise articulated at the AIPAC policy conference last March a top priority — is going to move the embassy, I say most of the options on the table, which identify various spaces west of the 1949 armistice line that at one point divided the holy city, are not good enough.

The U.S. Embassy, if it is to be moved, should instead be in so-called East Jerusalem.

One line of thought gaining traction among those foreign policy experts who consider moving trucks transferring American diplomatic personnel and equipment east from their current base in Tel Aviv a virtual certainty is that locating the new embassy in “West Jerusalem” would provide an opportunity to at the same time articulate the belief that East Jerusalem should belong to the Palestinians, who wish to make it their capital.

The international community has never really recognized Israel’s 1980 legal declaration that Jerusalem, including lands the Jewish state won control over in the 1967 Six-Day War, was a united city, they point out, and placing the embassy on land that has always been Israel’s would settle the debate.

But moving the embassy to an address in the western part of the city would settle nothing and only provide further fuel to those who believe East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians. What’s the problem, you ask?

East Jerusalem is home to the Old City and its Jewish Quarter, where Jordan defiled synagogues following the 1949 armistice, as well as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. To deny Jewish sovereignty over the Old City would be tantamount to denying Judaism’s claim to where both Temples stood thousands of years ago and, as a Jew, that is something that — no matter my centrist politics and embrace in principle of Palestinian aspirations to a state of their own — I cannot countenance.

Is now the right time to make the move? That’s a trickier question, although given the unconscionable betrayal of Israel by the United States in the U.N. Security Council last month, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that things couldn’t get much worse.

The outgoing president seems to have thrown out the adage that only the sides themselves could negotiate the final determinations of a peace deal, while the Palestinians long ago embraced official intransigence and unofficial incitement of terror. A ratification of the Jewish state’s concerns might be exactly what the region needs.

That would assume that the warnings from the Jordanians and Palestinians are mere bluster. But it’s also reasonable to believe that the last thing anyone wants, including the influential powers backing the Palestinians, is to escalate the simmering tensions into all-out war.

When he takes the oath of office, Trump will face a litany of choices when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the more particular, but related concern of where the American embassy in Israel will call home for the coming decades.

There’s no question it should be moved and a strong case to be made that the time to do so is now. Should he choose the wrong parcel of land, however, that dreaded law of unintended consequences might harm not only American interests, but Israeli interests as well.

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at jrunyan@jewishexponent.com.


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