At best, Palestinian leaders will end up speaking out of both sides of their mouths. There is, after all, no way they can argue that Palestinians shouldn’t be profoundly upset by a U.S. policy shift that will be widely interpreted as an abdication of one of the last vestiges of evenhandedness that has survived from the late 1940s. Hamas and other extremist groups will no doubt seek to exploit the situation. While mainstream Palestinian leaders will seek to prevent this, they will also have to ensure that they are not outbid by extremists.
Palestinian leaders won’t be the only ones feeling compelled to register their vehement objections to the embassy move. Egypt and Jordan, both of which have long-standing peace treaties and security partnerships with Israel, would likely regard the relocation as a major violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of their peace treaties with Israel—both of which were brokered and guaranteed by the United States. They would not abrogate or rescind the treaties, but significant, public gestures of noncooperation with Israel, including recalling or expelling ambassadors, or suspending some cooperation, are conceivable.
This is even more applicable to the Gulf Arab states, with whom Israel has made striking progress in recent years, thanks largely to their mutual opposition to Iran. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar—all of which have offered a subtle but substantial degree of regional legitimacy and de facto recognition of Israel as a key ally against Iran—would feel bound to react negatively to moving the embassy. This, in turn, would slow or even undo recent diplomatic gains, which are among the most important in Israel’s history. Gulf countries and other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation would feel compelled to take public action to reassert the Palestinian, Muslim, and Christian claims on Jerusalem, and reject the implications of such a radical U.S. policy shift.
One additional irony is that Israel and the United States have been lecturing the Palestinians ad nauseam in recent years about the foolishness of purely symbolic gestures that come with a heavy cost—in their case, usually involving initiatives to gain more recognition in the UN or other multilateral institutions. A decision by Trump and Israel to relocate the embassy would send a clear message that they believe purely symbolic benefits can indeed be worth paying a heavy practical price, and the logical response of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) will be to redouble their own efforts with much less concern about American or Israeli complaints.
There are many half-measures the Trump administration could announce that fall far short of moving the embassy while allowing him to claim that he has fulfilled its promise. David Friedman, Trump’s nominee to serve as ambassador to Israel and a strong supporter of the settler movement, may reportedly operate out of Jerusalem—possibly in the U.S. consulate, the de facto embassy for the Palestinians—while the rest of the embassy stays behind in Tel Aviv. Friedman, who holds extreme views about Palestine and opposes a two-state peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (the bedrock of U.S. policy in recent decades), owns an apartment in Jerusalem in which he reportedly intends to reside no matter what happens with the embassy.