Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinian Authority

How to turn the lemon into lemonade
by Ira Straus
The decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is not the first time countries have pre-empted the negotiations for peace. It follows in the footsteps of many another country undermining the peace process in the opposite direction. It could claim to be a corrective step as well as a simple recognition of reality.
However, if so, it needs to correct itself also. The way to do this is to announce a U.S. consulate explicitly assigned to the Palestianians.
This can be done easily enough, by upgrading the U.S. Consulate-General that is already in Jerusalem.
The consulate is autonomous of the Embassy to Israel. Indeed, it predates Israel; it was established in 1928. After 1947 it was assigned to the Palestinian lands plus all of Jerusalem. It is a functioning entity; it is also a beautiful relic of a bygone era, almost akin to walking in the ruins of the Roman Forum and stumbling across the ancient Senate still in session. All that is needed is to update its name by adding the words: “Consulate to the Palestinian Authority”.
This too would be a simple recognition of reality. Already the U.S. Consulate-General is in reality a delegation to the Palestinians. It is a fact that its own webpage makes clear1 , yet this fact fails to get registered in its old, inherited name.
For the sake of overcoming the diplomatic damage done by the announcement of the Embassy move, the Consulate upgrading needs to get done soon. Time is not on our side. The damage is not catastrophic and is mostly reparable, as its proponents have been cheerfully pointing out, but it is real and substantial, a fact they have not been able to admit to themselves. The move has produced a bandwagoning effect in the opposite direction: the UN voted by a large majority to declare it null, void, and illegal, and several countries announced that they would establish embassies to the PA as a recognized state in Jerusalem.
We should not overdramatize. There are already delegations to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, but not to Israel; the U.S. move is objectively only a corrective to that imbalance. Nevertheless, perceptions are also a reality, and they can create new realities if allowed to pile up on themselves. This is something President Trump knows better than most people. The U.S. needs to correct the perceptions with a dramatic move to upgrade its Consulate to the Palestinians, the sooner the better.
The Administration could use the occasion also as an opportunity to put forward also its own proposal for peace. Robert Hunter, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, suggests (https://lobelog.com/jerusalem-making-lemonade/) that the simplest and surest way for the U.S. do this is by reviving the “Clinton Parameters” (that's Bill, not Hillary): “The basis for a settlement was best set out in December 2000, following the abortive Camp David summit. President Bill Clinton set down what have come to be known as the “Clinton Parameters,” which most experienced negotiators on all sides believe represent the best, if not the only, basis for success.”
Background and context
It is important neither to exaggerate nor to underestimate. Trump's move was a small one, not the end of the world. It sensibly presented itself as merely dealing normally with the reality that Israel's government is in Jerusalem, and specified that it was not pre-empting any decisions on borders and final status. And it came in a context of dubious unilateral steps pre-empting the peace process in the opposite direction by a number of countries, meaning that it could also be presented as a corrective step.
In recent years, a number of states unilaterally recognized the Palestinian Authority as a state, even while its statehood is supposed to be the outcome of negotiations not of external actions. Some international organizations have passed resolutions against Israel one-sided enough in their double standards and imbalance of accusations as to suggest the kind of anti-Semitic bias, a bias with whose dangers European and Middle Eastern Jews have long experience.
These steps have been careless of the peace process. They have been weak on substantive purpose, but strong on virtue signaling to the left and to the predominant global media, which evidently is where governments sense that their reputations are made or unmade; and in some cases, virtue signaling to the street, whose passions and violence are both feared and stoked by Mideastern governments. They have harmed the peace process.
Trump's step could end up doing even more harm, because of perceptions of it and reactions to it, even if objectively it should be less damaging than the opposite ones. To its credit, it was done with some caution, the opposite of boastful virtue-signaling; thus Trump's statement that it does not predetermine or pre-empt anything about final status, but only recognizes a reality, in keeping with the realist tradition of non-ideological diplomacy.
There have been arguments that the U.S. should have gotten concessions from Israel in return; but an Israeli professor and opponent of the move, Alon Ben-Meir, argues that in fact it did so. Ben-Meir generally leans to the left but likes to acknowledge facts on either side; he wrote on Dec. 14 that, “In return for Trump’s announcement, Netanyahu quietly conceded not to expand the settlements outside the three blocks along the 1967 borders, and also to engage in confidence-building measures, especially joint economic development projects with the Palestinians.” Ben-Meir adds that the harmful effects he had earlier predicted from the Embassy move would indeed have come to pass, “had Trump’s declaration been phrased in a manner that included East Jerusalem directly or indirectly as part of Israel’s capital, and ignored the need for a two-state solution. But this is not what happened. In fact, what he stated clearly implied that East Jerusalem was not part of the equation... [E]verything else he stated – implicitly if not explicitly – was limited to West Jerusalem.”
What a Consulate to the Palestinians would accomplish would be to take that implicit fact, which has been mostly overlooked, and make it explicit -- emphatically explicit.
The U.S. has been right over the years in criticizing the earlier anti-Israel actions as harmful, and as usually a matter of cowardly grandstanding. Those grandstanding gestures have been dependent on leaving it to the U.S. to take the heat of limiting the damage, by maintaining a more careful and balanced diplomatic posture, and by vetoing a long spate of resolutions at the UN. The U.S. always explained its vetoes, in face of the predictable criticisms, on the ground that, whatever the vices the resolutions were condemning and the virtues of the principles they were declaring, they were one-sided to the point of giving license to opposite vices, and the issues needed to be resolved in negotiations on the ground for peace.
The U.S. was counted on by other countries to be the grown-up in the room. Similarly, the President was counted on by Congress to be the grown-up in the room, when Congress passed resolutions on recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital -- and when it passed a number of other grandstanding resolutions on foreign policy matters around the world. It was like a dual system of dikes against populism in diplomacy, one on the international level, the other on the domestic level. Each system balanced precariously against each other and against the patience of the U.S. executive.
The grandstanders gave no thought to the fragility of the dikes. They piled up against them time after time, counting on the American President always to bear the burden and add the counterweights.
It was a global dual balance, reliant on American maturity against two fronts of childishness. It was always at risk of collapsing like a house of cards.
It has now broken down on both ends. First the Obama Administration, in its final weeks in office, abandoned America's stoic posture on UN resolutions and joined the other states in the virtue signaling to the Left, by withdrawing the U.S. veto that had protected the negotiation process, instead abstaining while pro forma regretting the vote as potentially harmful to the peace process. International populism prevailed. (There are reports that it even secretly pushed other countries to vote against Israel, or in effect, to not wait for the grownup to come back in the room in a few weeks; such a policy of secretly pressing for the vote would be the only thing that would seem logically available to enable journalists and Democrats to argue that Trump had violated the Logan Act by following the established public U.S. policy of discouraging such a vote.) Then Trump in turn abandoned the executive's stoic posture on Congressional resolutions and joined Congress in the virtue signaling to Israel. Domestic populism prevailed.
Between the two actions, both of the dikes against populism were abandoned. Floodgates were opened. We need to find a way to close them before too many waters flow through.
Two Wrongs, and How to Right our Wrong
If the new U.S. action had been presented as a small balancing corrective to the gross accumulation of steps in the opposite direction by other states, it might have reduced the new damage. But it could not eliminate the new damage. While a wrong is often in part a corrective to another wrong, it usually also remains a wrong in itself. The rule of thumb is that, in the absence of compelling justification for a specific counter-action, two wrongs don't make a right. There is no compelling need or justification for the present step. President Trump needs to take a supplementary step – a balancing gesture of his own – to turn his wrong into a right.
The most appropriate balancing step is to establish a U.S. consular entity in Jerusalem explicitly dedicated to the Palestinian Authority, autonomous of the U.S. Embassy to Israel. Fortunately, as noted above, it would be easy to do this. Only two things are needed:
  1. To make sure the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is not subordinated to the U.S. Embassy to Israel when the latter is moved, but remains an autonomous diplomatic entity, reporting directly to the State Department. The Consulate General fought this battle for its continued autonomy from the Embassy after 1947. It won the battle back then, sparing the U.S. a long-term diplomatic disaster. It is even more important that it win it again this time, when a diplomatic disaster is again courted as the Embassy is moved. There will be formalistic arguments that it is contrary to protocol to have an autonomous Consulate in the same city and to the same government as an Embassy. These arguments can be pushed back either (a) by making a formal exception, or (b) by renaming the Consulate to make explicit the fact that it is assigned primarily to a different governance entity. The latter has advantages. Thus,
  2. Rebrand the Consulate General as a consulate to the Palestinian Authority. This new brandname would best be an add-on to the existing name, not a total rebranding. There is a value in retaining the historical continuity of the function as overall Consulate in Jerusalem, and indeed retaining the anachronism of it as a relic of a once region-wide authority from an era prior to the large-scale Arab-Israeli conflict. The name could thus become: “U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem and to the Palestinian Authority”. Words would no doubt be added to the effect that this does not imply recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a state; and should be added, because such recognition requires first a peace treaty with Israel establishing the PA as an actual state. There is little reason to fear this proviso would be neglected; on the matter of Israel, virtue signaling to hardliners is an entrenched part of U.S. politics, much like virtue signaling to the Left on most other matters.
A partial model can be seen in U.S. representation to Taiwan. China, as an adversarial great power, would have preferred to abolish it. China was able to require America to recognize the PRC as the sole legal government of China, with Taiwan as a part of China and destined to be peacefully reunited with the mainland, in return for a strategic partnership against the Soviet Union. Yet even so, the U.S. had the good sense to require the Joint Communique with China to state also that America will maintain unofficial relations with Taiwan, something that is done in practice through the American Institute in Taiwan.
America needs to do similarly in the case of the PA. Since America's stated goal, and that of Israel and entire world, is independence for the PA in a two state solution -- unlike Taiwan, and where we face across the Straits an adversarial great power, and where our own stated goal is eventual incorporation into that neighbor -- we can and should do better in the formalities for the PA than we do for Taiwan. Our delegation should be official, not “private”.
America's delegations to Israel and to the PA can be pressured to coordinate closely, but the latter will need to retain its autonomous authority, responsible to the Secretary of State and U.S. President, not to the Embassy to Israel. That is the only way to ensure that both delegations will listen to the other seriously. It would give a new institutional form to renew our credibility as the honest broker for peace.
The delegation to the PA should remain formally housed separately from the Embassy to Israel. It would be optimal to locate it at least pro forma in East Jerusalem, whether or not most of its personnel spend most of their time there; but optimality may not work in this case: to make an East Jerusalem location possible, there would have to be strong, reliable guarantees of PA security against violence to the facility and the personnel. Already U.S. personnel travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian authorities, rather than locating there where it would be too dangerous for them. Could it locate formally within an East Jerusalem building occupied primarily by PA offices, as a protective encirclement, while retaining its main operational building in West Jerusalem? It would be a positive step, but most likely, it would have to remain simply in its present location in West Jerusalem. That is the default option.
A broader context on the problem of balancing things
I think it helpful to turn here for some wisdom to the late Clarence Streit, who had a singularly relevant background for understanding these matters. He was an astute observer of world affairs, dating back to when he served as an intelligence officer to President Wilson at the Versailles peace conference. His knowledge deepened when he served for ten years as New York Times correspondent at the League of Nation. There he wrote a book on European and Atlantic unification that became a founding document of the movements for uniting democracies, and an inspiration for the founders of the EU and NATO. His book dealt at length with the question of admitting additional countries into an international union of democracies once established. In his last years, in the early 1980s, he addressed privately the specific question of whether Israel should be brought into the Western union that exists in the form of the EU and NATO.
Many people were advocating (and more have since advocated) bringing Israel into NATO, or into the EU; some on the theory that it would give Israel a hinterland of security and make it somewhat easier for it to make peace, others on the opposite theory that it would reward Israel for being a democratic ally that is not shy about using force to defend itself. I was young at the time and asked Streit for his wisdom on it. He answered that one should be cautious, recognizing that the structures of Atlantic (and Pacific) unity had already included nearly all of the candidates that were viable at that time. He added that if Israel, or for that matter any state locked in conflict with its neighbors, were to be brought into a European or Atlantic union, then one of those neighbors must be brought in also. There would have to be meanwhile a peace agreed between them, with the union potentially helping in keeping the peace. He admitted that it was hard to see what Arab state would qualify for joining the EU or NATO, and did not see it as a near term prospect, but he mentioned Jordan, the Palestinians, and Lebanon as the least unlikely.
I was sufficiently impressed by the advice that, when I became a kind of founding exponent myself of the idea of NATO expansion in 1988-91 and created the first Western public organization for this purpose in 1992, I took limited cohesive spaces -- the then-CSCE and then-OECD spaces -- as the reference areas for new members in this era. Our organization steered away from Israel, India, and some others than were being proposed, much less the talk a few years later about NATO going global and including all democracies. That talk seemed as careless as it was for a time popular and prominent.
In the mid-1990s, NATO itself defined its member-acquisition space in similar terms: as the PfP space, in turn a subset of CSCE, plus special partnership connections in the Pacific wing of OECD; while developing a larger global space of partnerships with countries that could not be candidates for membership in this era. It wisely set a requirement that a new member state must have a settled peace with its neighbors before gaining actual membership. At the same time it acknowledged that it should not let a neighbor exercise a veto over a prospective new member by deliberately maintaining a conflict with it for that purpose. It sometimes brought in countries in pairs or groups so as to avoid advantaging one as newly admitted over another still on hold.
Applying this wisdom has been non-trivial. It has required difficult judgment calls. It is the same situation that pertains in all judicial and adjudicatory situations: it is not deductive from a single principle, but requires facing and weighing all the crucial principles and facts. Its requirement of a judgment call is a requirement of the greatest virtue, that of an honest attempt at making objectively sound decisions in complex circumstances, not a descent into mere subjectivity.
This need for balanced judgment for admission of new members of a union, weighing effects on neighbors and including them in pairs when appropriate, is not the same problem today's Embassy problem. However, it has a profound bearing on today's problem.
An honest balance of attention to the considerations on all sides is important for maintaining good relations around the world. This is not a matter of maintaining an always-even balance that makes all considerations equivalent, but an honest balance that gives all legitimate considerations their due, and does its work of signaling the effort to all parties and taking compensatory steps when appropriate. It is a longstanding part of the diplomatic repertoire, which must often take dramatic steps but takes care to offer compensations and reassurances. If ones neglects this balance, one pays a high price in making unnecessary enemies.
This is true for any country. It is especially true for the world's leading country, America, which is the only country capable of providing the leadership for brokering the peace between Israel and the PA. A weakening of that role is being suffered today. It would be a considerable loss for the U.S., and for the entire world.
How to de-prejudice the move and turn the PR to the better for America
The decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and formally recognize the city as the capital of Israel was simple, symbolically forceful, and without effort at balance. That is why it needs a balancing step of similar, related symbolic force. And that is why the best solution is to follow up on it by announcing a permanent U.S. delegation to the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem.
This is probably also the only way to make good in practice on President Trump's statement that the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem is not supposed to prejudice or prevent in any way the success of the final status negotiations. That statement unquestionably represents his sincere intention, and is formally logical; but in practice the symbolism did unbalance matters and prejudice them, even if not more than the grandstanding moves of other countries in the opposite direction.
The embassy move is primarily a move in the sphere of PR, an area in which President Trump has proven skills. There was no great practical need for it. Its symbolism is the main thing in it.
However, the PR of it is as yet more bad than good: mostly good in Israel and its the current governing coalition (although many in Israel, while appreciating it as a gesture, view it as counter-productive), but disastrous among Palestinians and Arabs.
Good PR means: balancing the positive symbolism of it for Israelis with a move of comparable positive symbolism for Palestinians. By upgrading and rebranding the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem as also a U.S. delegation to the Palestinian Authority.
Setting forth at the same time a sound peace proposal would also be good PR. It might just turn the PR defeat into a PR coup. Here we see a way of making American leadership in the region great again, if I may borrow that good and apt phrase.
This deserves to be put to President Trump as a step he could take immediately, one that would be a success for America, a success for him personally, and a great PR move for a master of PR.

1. Here is its self-description (https://jru.usconsulate.gov/our-relationship/policy-history/): “The U.S. diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, first established in 1844, was designated a Consulate General in 1928. It now represents the United States in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip as an independent mission, with the Consul General serving as chief of mission... Our overarching strategic objective remains the achievement of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the emergence of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Consulate General has served as the de facto representative of the United States government to the Palestinian Authority. In tandem with our efforts to shepherd a conflict-ending Israeli-Palestinian settlement, we help the Palestinian Authority build the sustainable institutions of a future independent, viable, democratic, and sovereign Palestinian state.”

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