Thus, a key element of the traditional Passover and Yom Kippur prayers, expressing optimistic hope that “next year” the Jews would once again have access to the Holy City (as opposed to simply the western outskirts – and even that wasn't taken for granted until the State of Israel was established in 1948). And in fact, “next year” never came, until the 1967 war resulted in Israeli occupation of what is called the West Bank, but which includes the old city of Jerusalem, with all that is left of the ancient temple, plus the Temple Mount, which remains Islamic property while under Israeli authority. It's an area that was supposed to be part of Israel from the start, but which fell (back) into Arab hands during the war that immediately followed the establishment of the State of Israel.
The symbolic significance of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel cannot be overstated; by comparison Tel Aviv is a newcomer on the world map. And yet, for any number of diplomatic reasons, we have chosen to have our embassy there rather than in Jerusalem – which is strange in a way, since we seem to dance to Israel's tune in every other respect; why not this one? I guess it was a way of saying, to the world, that we were still our own man, and had the right to put our embassy wherever we pleased. Well... as to being “our own man” when it comes to Israel, that has been shown to be a myth on any number of occasions. When it comes to our policy in the Middle East, they call the shots... and that fact tends to reverberate through our other foreign policy decisions, our diplomatic relations, and, most of all, our military budget and where our “defense” dollars go, which, in turn, means where American taxpayer money goes.
But now that phrase has a new meaning – for us. And yet the Trump move – assuming it's not sidetracked by the numberless hordes who live for nothing but to frustrate and defeat Trump, and drive him from office in disgrace (and hopefully in leg irons) – is nothing more than an acknowledgment of what has been the case pretty much since the establishment of the State of Israel back in 1948. But of course, in diplomacy what is “the case” seldom if ever matters; what's more important is what everyone pretends is the case. And in this case, we have usually found it prudent to not openly declare that we were “all in” for Israel – that we had at least a passing interest in Palestinian rights, and in the integrity of neighboring states (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt). But whenever push came to shove, it turned out that there was “no daylight” between us and Israel when it came to our foreign policy – which is another way of saying that Israel dictates our foreign policy. (We certainly don't dictate theirs! And someone has to be in charge.) But it would be undiplomatic (not to mention slightly humiliating) to put it in those terms, so we prefer to euphemize.
Basically, it's all about symbolism. And it's all about what everyone knows, but no one wants to talk about – namely that Israel is, for all intents and purposes, the 51st state in the United States, and that we will spare nothing to see that it survives. Of course, Israel did survive, with more or less stable borders, from 1948 until 1967, but its survival since then seems to depend on its holding on to the West Bank and to Jerusalem (Old City). Basically, whatever Israel declares essential to its survival is what we will support with our own resources. I guess if they decided to colonize some forgotten chunk of central Africa, that would instantly become vital to their survival, and hence something that we would have to add to our long list of things to defend (diplomatically and militarily). (When you take a good, hard look at what is called "the American Empire", it's interesting how seldom our own flag flies over the various pieces of that empire. Most often, it's someone else's flag, which leads one to wonder, exactly whose "empire" is it, anyway?)
I look upon this with more than a hint of ambivalence. On the one hand, I'm willing to admit that, yes, this (moving the embassy) would be a much more honest policy than the wishy-washy, wimpy one of old. If we want to defy the entire Arab world, then by gosh let's do it, and quit pretending otherwise. On the other hand, if it further solidifies Israel's death grip on our foreign policy, I have to oppose it, and for any number of reasons. For starters, the modern state of Israel is, basically, a postwar creation by England and the U.S., with France looking on benignly. And the notion that it was “a land without a people for a people without a land” is a myth rivaling anything Wagner could have come up with. There was ethnic cleansing – and plenty of it – involved, and the “refugee camps” which persist to this day (!) are evidence of this. (How long does a place called a “refugee camp” have to exist before it's no longer entitled to that name?)
And was it about religion? Well, Israel is notoriously secular, and its residents tend to be “unchurched” except for the orthodox. And was it about... well, I'm not going to get into that debate as to whether the Jews are a “race” or an “ethnic group”. If you're anti-Semitic, you're also a racist; that seems to be the standard logic. And yet the term “Semitic” also refers to the Arabs, so what we're seeing may be more like a family feud. (After all, both the Jews and the Muslims are “people of the book”, as are the Christians.)
In any case, the “legitimacy” of Israel as a state, or country, can be debated, although it never is. Our position is that Israel is perfectly legitimate because... well, just because. Okay? And the Arab position is that Israel is illegitimate (they refer to it as “the Zionist entity”) because.... well, just because. So there is no debate, just two rock-hard positions... and try coming up with a diplomatic solution to this one. The one-state solution, with a kind of apartheid and the Palestinians as second-class citizens, seems to offend our democratic sensitivities, whereas the two-state solution, which requires each side to give up territory it feels it's entitled to, offends their racial/ethnic/religious sensitivities. (Note that both the Jews and the Arabs claim a “right of return” to what we call the Holy Land.)
And throughout this entire history, we (the U.S.) have been dithering, hand-wringing, and agonizing about how to convince people who have no interest in peace into agreeing to a “peaceful solution”. (And I have to admit that this was actually not one of Jimmy Carter's many failures, for the simple reason that it was impossible for him to succeed, just as it has been impossible for any of his successors.)
So one could argue that this intent (not yet an accomplished fact) to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is “meaningless”, since it doesn't change anything of any real importance. But since when have actual, tangible changes been important, compared to symbolism, or what we now call “optics”? The Palestinians have always known that we aren't on their side, when it gets down to brass tacks. They know this! They aren't stupid! They know that in any debate between them and Israel, they are also facing us, and to a lesser extent Western Europe. (At least they have finally gotten used to being a forgotten, shat-upon, and despised minority.) And they also know that they can expect little if any help from Israel's Arab neighbors. Somehow the fact that the Palestinians wound up holding the short end of the stick back in 1948 has won them little or no sympathy from their supposed blood brothers. Once again, witness the continued existence of the “refugee camps” -- neighboring Arab countries could have taken all of these people in decades ago, but they didn't. It was better to leave them in squalor as a living indictment against Israel.
It would be easy to just sit back and say “Well, if there's no solution, there's no problem.” But that would be small comfort to those involved. Everyone born in a certain place feels that they have a right to that place – to stay there and seek their fortune there. (This is also true of the so-called “dreamers”, by the way, which makes that an especially difficult issue.) People who migrated to a certain place, for whatever reason, also feel that they have a right to stay there. (Again, think of the mass migrations – both legal and otherwise – into U.S. territory.)
After a number of major wars, there have been established “claims commissions” chartered to straighten out a wide variety of claims and grievances, including, but not limited to, territory, bank accounts, spoils of war (including works of art), business interests, property, and so on. There is no formal claims commission dealing with Israel and the West Bank, probably because no one in their right mind would want to be on it. But we – not being in our right mind, at least in terms of foreign policy – insist that we are the ones who, at long last, are able to objectively settle these matters... or at least provide wise counsel in that regard. We pretend to be honest brokers, while at the same time every suggestion we make somehow winds up favoring Israel. Once again, the Palestinians are not stupid; they can see through all of this. But then who do they turn to? The European Union? The World Court? Good luck. They could turn to their fellow religionists, who basically surround Israel on three sides (with water on the fourth side) – but once again, and to their shame, the Arab world prefers to have a chronic, multi-generational victim class in Israeli-held territory, because they feel that it somehow gives them leverage in places like the U.N. But even that has been shown to be a vain hope.
Regarding the embassy issue, it was, once again, the U.S. and Israel vs. the world, and so far the U.S. and Israel have won. But the Arabs do not have the patience of, say, the Chinese, who seem to be able to wait pretty much any situation out until things turn in their favor. So the conflict will drag on, no matter where our embassy is.