The battle for the embassies has replaced the get-nowhere and unrealistic Arab battle for international sanctions to punish Israel for consolidating its hold on all Jerusalem -- including the once-Arab eastern sector.
But if the Arabs were getting nowhere with hoped-for international sanctions, they already are getting somewhere with the embassies.
Targets in the battle are the 13 countries that hitherto have had their embassies in Jerusalem. The Arab aim is to get the 13 to move their embassies from Jerusalem down to the coastal city of Tel Aviv -- where all other countries having diplomatic relations with Israel base their ambassadorial missions.
Two of the 13 -- Venezuela and Uruguay -- already have decided to make the shift. Costa Rica was reported to be about to follow suit. But the single country under most pressure from the Arabs is the Netherlands, the only member of the North Atlantic alliance and the European Community that so far has had its ambassador in Jerusalem.
The government of Iraq (according to the Iraqi news agency) told the Dutch ambassador in Baghdad Aug. 16 that it would break diplomatic and economic relations with Holland if it did not move its embassy in Israel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv within a month.
For Israelis (as, indeed, for Arabs) the issue is psychological and political. Those countries -- including the United States -- that have refused to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem are sticking to the letter of international law as embodied in the United Nations General Assembly resolution of Nov. 29, 1949.
That resolution partitioned Palestine, paving the way for the establishment of Israel.But the same resolution gave Jerusalem to neither Israelis nor Arabs but specifically said it should be "a corpus separatumm under a special international regime."
Israel, of course, would like all countries to have their embassies in Jerusalem so that the Jerusalem provisions of the 1949 UN resolution would become completely academic. But as of the beginning of this month, only a total of 13 had their embassies in Jerusalem: the four already mentioned, plus nine others of Central and South America.
This gained them points with Israel at the expense of the Arabs. For any of them to "defect" under Arab or other international pressure and move their embassies away from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is therefore a victory for the Arabs and a loss for Israel.