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US embassy move to Jerusalem could spark 'third intifada'

Volker Wagener
December 6, 2017

Both Israelis and Palestinians claim the holy city as a capital. Former German Ambassador to Israel Rudolf Dressler told DW that the United States would seriously harm the Middle East peace process with an embassy move.

US Embassy in Tel Aviv
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Guez

DW: Mr. Dressler, The United States Congress voted to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move its embassy there when it passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995. Why was that decision never acted upon?

Rudolf Dressler: The proposal has been regularly suspended by every American president regardless of political party every six months since 1995 because the Arab world and the European Union have clearly stated that it would be unacceptable for the United States to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We have always maintained that such a move would be an escalation akin to riding the edge of a razor. Yet that is exactly what Trump has done in all of his ignorance and disdain for international opinion — something we have seen again and again. He has said that he will do whatever he wants, just like he did he was running his companies.

Rudolf Dreßler
Rudolf Dressler, former German ambassador to IsraelImage: picture-alliance/ZB/K. Schindler

For 70 years the international consensus has been that Jerusalem was taboo until a solution to the Middle East conflict could be found. What is Donald Trump's withdrawal from this international consensus supposed to bring about?

I suppose that it is just part of his nature. It isn't the first decision he has made on the issue. But the worst effect of the administration's decision to move the embassy is that it has effectively forfeited the United States' role as a stabilizing force and also as an international partner in future peace negotiations. That is really the worst aspect of the decision. Now Russia, China and the EU will take over this role.

You spent five years in Israel as the German ambassador. Did you ever think you would see the day when the United States would act on its 1995 resolution?

No, I didn't think it possible because as anyone who has ever analyzed the situation knows, the implementation of such an idea could never provide a sustainable groundwork for a new round of peace talks. And also because the conflicts surrounding the situation would grow so large that the threat of a third intifada could not be ruled out. If we think about the fact that the second intifada was sparked by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, then it becomes clear that there are certainly similarities. The ideology and transmission of signals, the fact that one is choosing sides, also in terms of religious conflict, is all extremely dangerous.

Read more:  The Temple Mount: A clash of cultures

Karte Map Jerusalem ENG

Germany is a close ally of the United States. The German Embassy, like every other country's diplomatic representation, is based in Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem. What is the German position on this issue?

It is that we would only look favorably upon moving the embassy when we have a peace treaty in place that resolves the issue of Jerusalem as capital for both sides — East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem — and when that treaty is accepted by both Israelis and Palestinians. That is not only not the case right now, we are actually further away than ever.

Was there ever a different German position on the issue of Jerusalem?

Not that I am aware of.

Washington's announcement has been greeted with great outrage in the Arab and Muslim world and beyond. What will the United States' symbolic and one-sided partisanship towards Israel mean for the peace process throughout the region?

It will mean that the US will sacrifice its role as a reliable guarantor of Western-style multilateralism. That is the political message, and that is also how German Foreign Minister [Sigmar Gabriel] summed it up. And that, in turn, means that we will no longer be looking for new ways to restart peace negotiations but rather will be forced to seek ways to hinder new outbreaks of violence.

Read more: Palestinians protest against US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital

What will now be required of German foreign policy?

Palästina Gaza Proteste
Protesters in Gaza burn the Israeli and American flags in opposition to the US intention to move its embassy to JerusalemImage: Reuters/M. Salem

No one even knows at this point, but if renewed violence should become a reality — for instance, with a third intifada — then Germany and all of its EU partners will have a lot to deal with. We will have to determine how to reformulate the EU's role against the backdrop of Trump and Netanyahu's policies in Israel. The possibility for renewed peace talks is slim at this point. They simply are not likely to take place. We have to figure out how we can get Israel back to the negotiating table.

Rudolf Dressler (77) is a Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician. He represented the Federal Republic of Germany as its ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv from 2000 until 2005.

Trump's policy on Jerusalem – Q&A with international security expert Markus Kaim