By Jackson Richman
President Donald Trump is in a unique position to do on what every president since Bill Clinton has failed to do: Moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Although Trump promised on the campaign trail to move the embassy, he signed his first waiver last June. Nonetheless, Israeli television reports that the president does not want to sign the waiver again.
At an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. vote on the Partition Plan, Vice President Mike Pence said, “While for the past 20 years, Congress and successive administrations have expressed a willingness to move our embassy, as we speak, President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
Per the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, the president has the obligation for the U.S. embassy to be in Jerusalem, which would be recognized by the U.S. as the undivided capital of Israel.
However, Section 7 of the law enables a waiver in which the president may “suspend the limitations set forth in section 3(b) for a period of six months if he determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”
On Friday, it was reported the president will make an announcement on Wednesday regarding the embassy. It is expected that Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but leave the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months.
Signing the waiver would allow the remaining half of the funds allocated to the State Department for “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad.”
Critics say that opening an embassy in Jerusalem would ignite tension between the Israelis and Palestinians. However, the conflict started long before the embassy was built in Tel Aviv.
“This step would kill the possibility of a peace deal any time soon,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a director of the Middle East security program at the Washington-based progressive think tank The Center for a New American Security. “The Arab states would be furious. The Jordanians would be worried. The Palestinians would walk away from any discussion.”
Goldenberg’s sentiment is appeasement and a demonstration that there is moral equivalence between the Israelis and the Palestinians when there is not. The Palestinians condone terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis, along with paying the families of terrorists, and have had a coalition with the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas, which has launched rockets from Gaza into Israel while using women and children as human shields, a violation of international law.
Additionally, the Palestinian Authority should not be viewed like the Irish Republican Army, whose leader, the late Martin McGuinness, was able to end the conflict between the IRA and the rest of United Kingdom with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas is no Martin McGuinness. The IRA’s struggle was ultimately for sovereignty from the U.K. In contrast, the P.A.-Hamas coalition against Israel is the political face of a primarily religious battle: the Jews and their state should perish. While McGuinness reached a deal with London, Abbas is seeking to push Israelis from “the river [through Jerusalem] to the sea.”
By moving the embassy, the U.S. is clearly demonstrating Israel’s absolute right to exist with Jerusalem recognized as its eternal capital. This is a maneuver that could cause the P.A. to seriously attend the negotiating table once and for all and strike a peace deal with Israel.
Moreover, Arab allies may feel uneasy about an embassy move. But it would likely not burn the bridge that connects the U.S. to its strategic Mideast allies like Saudi Arabia, which has recently embraced Israel as a strategic partner against Iran.
“What are the Saudis going to do if their American protector decides it’s moving its embassy to the Israeli capital,” Hudson Institute senior fellow Lee Smith rhetorically asked in an article for Tablet magazine. “Retaliate by losing $5 billion out of the $100 billion arms deal the Saudis will be cutting with Trump this weekend for the sole and explicit purpose of making sure the president’s mind is focused on Iran?”
The founder of modern Zionism Theodore Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” For Trump, the dream of drastically shifting U.S. policy toward its closest Mideast ally for the better can become a reality with denying the stroke of a pen.