Jerusalem, Trump, and Congress: The Right Move
There are many reasons to complain about Trump’s foreign policy, but moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv is not one of them.
Recently, our Editor in Chief Michael argued why Trump moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a dangerous move. While there are valid concerns about the danger of the move, there is no doubt that it is the right thing to do. The decision reaffirms America’s commitment to Israel and makes it even more irrefutable to Arab nations that Israel is here to stay.
This message is still important, perhaps now more than ever. The vast majority of Arab nations do not recognize Israel as a state, and they make up a significant voting bloc at the U.N. at 32 states. The two Arab states who do recognize the country of Israel, Egypt and Jordan, only made that decision after multiple wars and billions of dollars in aid from the United States.
There is also the matter that Iran, and its proxy in Hezbollah, call for the destruction of the Jewish state, and Iran’s previous President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied the existence of the Holocaust. These policies, and those of many Arab states, hold their roots in racism and anti-semitism. The United States firmly backing Israel will help force these countries to drop their antiquated and racist foreign policies. It’s been more than half a century, co-existence is the only realistic choice now.
Just to be clear, I believe Trump should move the embassy to West Jerusalem. The distinction between East and West Jerusalem in any recognition of the Israeli capital is extremely important to future peace proposals. It’s also not a new phenomenon, as West Jerusalem became Israel’s de facto capital after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1950, Israel formally declared West Jerusalem as their capital, while Jordan continued to occupy East Jerusalem.
This changed after the invasion of Israel during the Six Days War in 1967, when Israel was invaded by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Israel duly repulsed the invasion and even gained territory, expelling the Jordanians from East Jerusalem in the process. The Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem remains, but there is no demand for it to be formally ceded. This falls in line with current claims from all sides, as Arab Nations only claim East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, informally recognizing that Israel is the rightful owner of West Jerusalem. If the United States were to include East Jerusalem in the recognition, or move the embassy there, then an argument would exist that the move ruins peace negotiations. However, that is not the case.
The fact of the matter is that West Jerusalem is clearly the capital. Israel’s Knesset (their parliament) is located in West Jerusalem and claims it as the capital, and the United States Congress passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan (93-5 in the Senate and 374-37 in the House) law in 1995 declaring that the U.S. embassy be moved to the capital in Jerusalem. The international community dances around the issue, but they recognize that West Jerusalem is the de facto capital of Israel. They’ve only refrained from moving their embassies and formally recognizing the facts on the ground because they view it as detrimental to a ‘peace process’ that hasn’t made any serious progress for decades. The only reason Trump’s announcement comes as a shock is because the international community has been blissfully ignorant of facts and reality.
Presidents since Clinton have also been ignoring the law, and an overwhelmingly bi-partisan law at that. The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act was a Congressional mandate to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as the capital of Israel. Democrat and Republican leadership both recognized this as the right move. However, due to protests of congressional overreach by the Clinton administration, they left a clause saying that the President can delay the decision for 6-months if “such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”
Every President since Trump has promised while campaigning to follow the law and move the embassy, and every President has failed to do so, opting to sign the waiver. The debate lies in whether or not moving the embassy poses a national security interest to the United States, and I do not think a strong enough argument exists that a move would be a national security threat.
Also, President Trump is (for once) honoring the laws made by Congress. While I doubt he is doing this to give back power to Congress, he is honoring the law instead of taking a unilateral move that may be executive overreach. Democrats need to stop playing politics, and come to grips with the law that they overwhelmingly supported.
Of the five permanent security council members, the United States is the second one to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Russia was the first nation to do this, and there was no fuss from the international community at all. Palestinians and their Arab allies will protest the U.S. move, but chaos shall not break loose. Other nations should face the facts and follow the U.S. example by moving their embassies.
Other nations should recognize the reality on the ground and follow the example laid out by the United States.
Embassy in Jerusalem: The Wrong Move
Israel is an important partner in the Middle East, but moving our embassy to Jerusalem now gives us no tangible foreign policy benefit and threatens security and stability in the region.
The move not only undermines our ability to negotiate in good faith, but also declares to the Arab world what they have long suspected: we have no interest in an impartial peace process. This abdication of responsibility paves the way for another world power, perhaps Russia or China, to take our place. Furthermore, our capitulation on the embassy issue gives Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu a carte blanche to carry out his policy of aggressive expansion into the West Bank. This attitude has led to breakdowns in negotiations in the past, as Israeli hardliners pushed for more settlements, provoking Palestinians, who then were blamed when things fell apart.
Moving the embassy will make that worse, and the reaction from the Arab world drives the point home. Violent protests have erupted in Lebanon, and were met with tear gas and water cannons. Hamas has called for another intifada. The relatively moderate Palestinian Authority demanded “three days of rage.” Even the Saudis, an American ally, oppose us.
Furthermore, Jerusalem, according to the 1995 bill, must remain an undivided city. When it says Jerusalem, it means the whole city. Recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital won’t actually be honoring the law either.
The argument that now is the time to move the embassy lacks any supporting evidence. There are 21 states in the Arab League, and 19 do not recognize Israel. None of these countries have changed their stances within the past decade except Mauritania, which was then in the midst of a military coup. In the case of Iran, it may even be the opposite. Yes, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Israel and spread enough anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to make a Breitbart commenter blush, but that’s the point, he’s the former president. His successor, Hassan Rouhani, is a self-proclaimed moderate and expressly not anti-Zionist; that is, he doesn’t call for Israel’s removal from the face of the Earth. Iran is still trying to increase its power in the Middle East using underhanded and ignoble methods, and we should rightfully work against those efforts, but moving our embassy won’t help us in that fight either.
Coexistence is certainly the only choice for Israel’s adversaries; the Jewish state has a firmly cemented place in the international order and is backed by the most powerful country in the world. In other words, no major changes in Israel’s neighborhood have occurred that would require the U.S. to show increased resolve in our commitment.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem is, as is clear from the number of headlines it has grabbed, a monumental decision. From a negotiator’s perspective, it is one of the biggest non-military plays in our playbook. Why would we use it now, when there is no obvious reason to do so? We get nothing in return. Israel makes no concessions and we are no closer to a peace deal. If the rumors of a Saudi-supported deal are true (and they seem dubious, at best), Palestine is supposedly being asked to accept Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Even casual observers know stopping these settlements is one of the most important points for Palestinians. Any negotiator worth his salt wouldn’t give up the embassy move for nothing.
An Israeli embassy in Jerusalem is unavoidable. It certainly should be in West Jerusalem, and would likely need to be offset by a Palestinian embassy in East Jerusalem. For this to happen, both sides will have to compromise, but the United States has just arbitrarily, and for no valid strategic reason, knocked a leg from under the table.
The embassy move to Jerusalem has a lot more common ground than many other issues; opinion polls on Israel and the bipartisan vote to move the embassy showcase that. The question therefore is when and where. The ‘where’ is readily apparent: West Jerusalem. While the Trump administration did not articulate this distinction well, this is clearly the Republican position. There isn’t much resistance to this on the Democratic side either, although their desire for a more equitable position for Palestinians in the city makes them cautious of moving the embassy now.
Recognizing Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem could re-establish the United States as an impartial arbiter, though there would likely be strong resistance from Israel, which has controlled it since 1980. Establishing an embassy there would be more difficult, as there’s no coherent Palestinian state, but even recognition would go a long way in assuaging concerns. It could also provide the impetus for a new round of peace negotiations, as the ‘new intifada’ Hamas called for looks to have already fizzled out. This is the direction we should now be looking, as there’s no turning back the clock on the decision.