When the U.S. Department of State says that it is moving its Embassy to the State of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it’s unlikely to become anything more than a superficial, perfunctory presence. Most embassy services will likely remain in Tel Aviv, and most employees will also remain there. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department is unlikely to go ahead and actually build the facilities for an embassy although it may acquire land.
While the U.S. Embassy to Israel only goes back to the founding of the state in 1948, the City of Jerusalem has had its own Consulate General that was established in 1844 as an American diplomatic presence in the Holy City. This diplomatic mission was elevated to the status of Consulate General in 1928 during the period when Britain was mandated by the League of Nations to administer the lands of Palestine. At that time the city of Jerusalem was undivided, and the State Department located the Consulate General on Agron Street, slightly more than one half mile (walking along city streets) (about 850 meters) from the walled city’s Jaffa Gate.
At the end of the
The annex of the Consulate General moved to new, expanded
facilities in 2010, a
"The Consulate General represents the United States in Arab Jerusalem [sic], the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip as an independent mission." Its role has become, in the words of the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Consulate General, “… the public diplomacy arm of the U.S. Consulate, [with] primary goals … to support the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis….” (“Public Affairs Section | U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem.” )
We’ve seen how the United States has maintained a Consulate General to Jerusalem for 170 years. It has answered directly to the State Department as an independent mission but not to an embassy as most consulates do. With one quick decision by President Trump, the annex of the Consulate General will begin to function as an embassy. Consular services to Jerusalem will supposedly resort to the cramped, outdated facility on Agron Street. About 580 staffers now work in consular services in the annex whereas about 960 staffers work in Tel Aviv (Taylor).
President Donald Trump has reversed a foreign policy in the region that dates back to 1948. What has the U.S. Department of State known about a new embassy in Jerusalem? Probably next to nothing until President Trump made his February determination known. Evidence of this lies in how the Consulate General has yet to formulate solicitations for adaptations of existing offices for new uses. (See “Request for Quotes”.)
How much did Secretary of State Rex Tillerson know about a move in upcoming May? As recently as last December, “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to concede that the move [of the Embassy] won't be easy and that the process of finding a new plot of land would begin immediately. ‘Obviously, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it,’ Tillerson [former CEO of ExxonMobil] told reporters…. ‘It's going to take some time.’” The President, his boss, seems to have meant that the move was really imminent. For the State Department this was a change in policy.
A rash change during the Trump administration is not unexpected, though. The Washington Post’s chief correspondent Dan Balz notes, “[President Trump] pledged not to be predictable or conventional. He demonstrated that he has no fixed ideology or conviction.”
Trump has shown repeatedly he is prepared to ignore orthodoxy and question policies that other administrations have accepted as constants. (Balz. “Trump promised …”)
I believe that the May date will be marked by ceremony. Political implications will arrive and, subsequently, not go away. Moving the embassy establishes another “fact on the ground” which will frustrate Palestinian desires to include eastern Jerusalem in a Palestinian state.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was just relieved of his post as I was writing this essay. He is beginning to tie up loose ends and will leave the State Department on March 31, 2018. He reportedly alienated State Department colleagues during his tenure as being a poor advocate for the State Department. His replacement, Mike Pompeo (if confirmed), is expected to repair damage. Nonetheless, career diplomats may be reluctant to accept Pompeo’s thought process, a process “very similar” to President Trump’s – a disdain for diplomacy (DeYoung. “Pompeo will face …”).
I’ve seen no evidence that moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is diplomatic – certainly not toward Palestinians and other Arabs.
On the other hand, it's always been a good idea for Arabs to wake up to reality. Israel exists and has a capital city. When Arabs wake up, the U.N. is also likely to wake up.