President Donald Trump is expected any day now to sign a six-month waiver to a 1995 U.S. law ordering the U.S. Embassy in Israel to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, Trump’s decision is not a surprise. After all, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the same thing every six months, starting in 1998, to postpone the implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act on the grounds of “national security interests.” Obama’s last waiver, signed several weeks after Trump was elected on a platform promising to move the embassy immediately, is due to expire June 1.
Based on Trump’s campaign promises, that deadline to act on the embassy issue should have been irrelevant. He repeatedly assured voters that he had made the decision to put the embassy in Jerusalem and would begin the process at the very start of his administration.
But since the inauguration, Trump and his staff have largely been silent about the embassy and, when forced to address the issue, have offered standard political double-talk, seeking time to study the implications of the move despite the stated support.
With the June 1 deadline approaching and national media reporting Trump’s plans to renew the waiver even as the president prepares to visit Jerusalem on Monday, May 22, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, May 14, that Trump needs more time to make the decision (meaning another waiver) and that the effects on the peace process will be a key consideration.
Tillerson said the decision will involve feedback from all sides, including “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
That was an odd statement because if Tillerson means the elected Israeli government, its view has been consistent and unequivocal in support of putting the U.S. Embassy in the actual Israeli capital.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quickly responded to Tillerson: “Israel’s position has been stated many times to the American administration and to the world. Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process. On the contrary, it would advance it by correcting an historical injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”
The argument against moving the embassy, uniquely denying Israel the right to declare its own capital, focuses on the problem of prejudging the final status of Jerusalem, one of the major disputes blocking an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But putting the embassy west of the Green Line, in an area of Jerusalem that Israel has controlled since 1948 and that only the history-denying U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and opponents of Israel’s existence refuse to acknowledge as part of Israel, would not eliminate the possibility of a Palestinian government presence in Jerusalem.
Such an embassy, to the contrary, would make a clear U.S. declaration that Israel’s place in Jerusalem is non-negotiable, so work on the grand peace deal Trump envisions could concentrate on other issues.
Israel’s capital is and always will be Jerusalem, regardless of the location of foreign embassies or the resolutions of UNESCO. We look forward to the day the United States acknowledges that reality.