Opinion: Embassy relocation a bad move

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The Middle East is a powder keg. Everybody knows that. Well, almost everybody.

It is a toxic cauldron of grievances dating back centuries. Disputed land, hatred between religions, tribal warfare, ancient cultures and grudges abound. Anybody who wants to try to bring a political settlement to these historic forces must be both very knowledgeable and extremely careful. Too much blood has been spilled, and too many lives already lost in that troubled region of the world.

So Donald Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the political reckoning within the State of Israel and the surrounding Palestinian areas was certain to become incendiary with loss of life the result. Anyone could see that coming. Well, almost anyone.

Sure enough, President Trump made good on a campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem against the advice of our European allies and most experienced Middle East diplomats in this country. He did it to satisfy his political base here at home. Did he realize that the fate of Jerusalem is central to any negotiation to arrive at a real peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab countries that support the Palestinians? He probably does not, or does not care. After all, it made for good politics at home. The consequence was predictable: violent protests occurred and scores of deaths resulted.

Was President Trump moved at all by the New York Times front page picture last Thursday of a Palestinian woman cradling her dead infant baby slain during the violence that occurred as the American delegation celebrated the opening of the new embassy? Maybe in the grotesque scheme of things, one more lost life is insignificant with all the death and destruction that both the Israelis and Arabs have suffered over the course of many, many decades. But for that mother, it was everything; her baby daughter Layla was her world. That baby died senselessly for a political photo op. (Editor’s note: Multiple news sources are now reporting that the baby may have had a pre-existing heart condition and that her death was not the result of Israeli tear gas.)

What was the point of it all? Just to do something that President Obama did not do? Just to say that he fulfilled a campaign pledge that should not have been made in the first place?

Don’t get me wrong. I am a passionate supporter of Israel’s national sovereignty. My maternal grandparents and family were exterminated during the Holocaust. So I personally understand why, and how the State of Israel was created and its importance to remain secure as a homeland for the Jewish people. But it is complicated.

For President Trump, however, nothing is complicated. Loss of life and bad political fallout overseas does not compete with the media ratings he received by making this bold move to Jerusalem. The blame for the deaths that were precipitated by this event cannot be solely laid at the door step of the White House. There are plenty of bad actors in the Middle East who have no compunction about using innocent civilians as pawns or just collateral damage in pursuit of their own ambitions.

Moving our embassy against the advice of nearly everybody except the government of Israel was really just political theater. Worse still, it was reckless with real life and death consequences. A lasting resolution and peace will only come to the Middle East when all sides recognize their common humanity and when politicians stop exploiting the conflict for their own agenda.

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