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A Mason professor: Trump perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by playing to his base

May 18, 2018

Richard Kauzlarich

By relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, President Trump has thrown a monkey wrench into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that will be very difficult to overcome, a George Mason University professor said.

“I don’t see how you put this back together in the short run. I don’t see it,” said Distinguished Visiting Professor and former U.S. ambassador Richard Kauzlarich, who ran the economics section of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv from 1981-83. “There’s no one on the Israeli side who is prepared to negotiate on the basic issues, and there’s no one on the Palestinian side who regards the United State as a worthy mediator in this. And they certainly are not going to engage [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu on this.”

More unfortunate, Kauzlarich said, is the relocation of the embassy was not done for practical reasons, but political.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” he said. “I’m not even sure it had anything to do with recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What it does have to do with is U.S. domestic policy, particularly the U.S. evangelical Christians who support Trump and see the move of the embassy to Jerusalem as somewhat biblical in its implications. Therefore, the major audience for the decision-maker in the White House was not in Jerusalem, was not in Israel, but is a constituency [in the United States] that is important.

“The U.S. embassy has been in Tel Aviv since Israel was established in 1948. Though Israel has always considered Jerusalem its capital, Palestinians also claim the ancient city as their capital and insist it should be such in any Palestinian state.”

The United States has always considered the final status of Jerusalem to be solved when the parameters of a two-state peace solution between the Israelis and Palestinians was forged, Kauzlarich said.

But Professor Marc Gopin, director of Mason’s Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, said the notion of a two-state solution is not universal, and the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem might not be a long-term roadblock to peace.

In fact, he added, the building of a permanent U.S. embassy in Jerusalem (for now, it is in a repurposed consulate), with all the security protocols it requires, is by no means a done deal.

Marc Gopin

“I think when saner heads prevail, there’s a possibility to delay the construction of something for years,” Gopin said. “There’s always the possibility of creating a counter move of establishing some presence in East Jerusalem that recognizes Palestinian authority. For people who want to make peace, no building is going to stand in the way of that.”

Still, “I think it’s reckless. It’s the most radical move of the Trump administration,” Gopin said of the embassy move. “But I would be much more interested in what can be possible in the future with more rational approaches to conflict resolution from American and global leadership. I think it remains to be seen.”

Kauzlarich is not optimistic.

“At the end of the day, Jerusalem is going to have to be a capital for both Israel and a Palestinian state,” he said. “How that’s done, I’m not sure, but it certainly looks pretty impossible right now.”

Richard Kauzlarich can be reached at 703-993-9652 or rkauzlar@gmu.edu.

Marc Gopin can be reached at 703-993-1308 or mgopin@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and 49 states, including Washington, D.C. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.