One of the bolder promises made by Donald Trump during his campaign was a promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wholeheartedly approved has always spoken well of the idea; that the usual suspects in the PLO and diplomatic circles have squealed and cried foul was only icing on the cake.
Comes now, however, is word that perhaps Trump may be reconsidering:
“We believe that Trump is reviewing his election promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem,” [PLO Executive Committee member] Abu Yousif stated. “Both Trump not mentioning the embassy in his inauguration speech, as [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu had expected, and the White House’s press secretary statements over the past couple of days indicate that the American president is reconsidering his position on the embassy.”
Now, you can take a look at this a couple of different ways. On the one hand, it could be that the Palestinians are simply engaging in wishful thinking. After all, they haven’t heard Trump talking about the embassy move since his inauguration, and so far the White House has only said that a decision hasn’t been made one way or the other. Then again, given the blunt nature of the Trump administration, the lack of a definitive statement might indicate that Trump is waffling here.
The point is, nobody knows.
And that is the most important point of all.
Anybody who has an even passing knowledge of the art of negotiation understands the value of unpredictability. When you walk into the car dealer, for example, do you think you’ll get a better deal if the sales guy knows you’re in love with the car? Of course not. Him not knowing if you’re going to walk away is what gives you the upper hand–and that’s what I believe is happening in this case.
Trump knows that the Palestinians are desperate to keep the embassy out of Jerusalem, which they consider to be disputed territory. By allowing them to think that he might be flexible on the move, he puts them at a disadvantage–perhaps making them more amenable on other issues. It’s The Art of the Deal 101.
And it has also exposed a weakness in the U.S. position on Israeli/Palestinian neogotiations up until now. Past presidents have been so desperate for a settlement–any settlement–that they’ve squandered away their bargaining position. Trump, in keeping the opposition guessing, is taking the initiative back.
Whether or not it works remains to be seen–but at the very least, it puts the good guys back in control.