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.
Until Israel's recent moves to consolidate its hold on all Jerusalem, the embassy shifts always had been in one direction -- to Jerusalem, not away from it. Hence the psychological pain for Israelis of the beginning now of a move, 32 years after the establishment of the state of Israel, in the opposite and pro-Arab direction.
(In election campaigns in the West, the "embassy-in- Jerusalem" issue is sometimes exploited by political parties to try to win support from pro-Israel voters. In the US, the Democratic Party convention last week reaffirmed in its platform earlier support for shifting the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
(In Canada, in the election campaign of 1979, then opposition leader Joe Clark made a pledge to move the Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem. But when he won the election and became prime minister, Mr. Clark found that diplomatic imperatives prevented him from delivering on his promise.)
Any "defection" by the Netherlands away from Jerusalem would be particularly significant. It always has been in the vanguard of those European countries sympathetic to Israel. At the time of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, it was singled out as the only European country to be a prime target (with the US) of Arab sanctions.
In recent European Community deliberations on the Middle East, the Netherlands has sought to put a brake on European moves toward a more pro-Arab position. And as far back as 1949, the Netherlands was among the UN General Assembly majority voting for the pro-Israel partition resolution. So, too incidentally, were Venezuela, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.
A Netherlands decision away from Jerusalem may be all the easier to make because the Dutch government in effect has the support in that direction of its eight fellow members of the European Community. These eight, of course, do not have embassies in Jerusalem. But the Community as a whole has indicated its support for that part of a proposed UN Security Council resolution on the Jerusalem issue that would call for a transfer of embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
Israel and its friends are likely to comment bitterly on the growing power (as they see it) of Arab oil blackmail.