Will Donald Trump when president stick to his promise of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
We hope so.
If he fails to it will not be for a lack of reminders. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called on Trump to keep to his promise when she congratulated him for his win. So did deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat reminded Trump, as did Marc Zell, the head of the GOP in Israel.
If Trump follows through on his campaign promise he would be upholding existing US legislation.
In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which calls for the initiating and funding of the relocation of the Embassy of the US from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The deadline for the move was set to be no later than May 31, 1999. The act also called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.
Unfortunately, despite passage in large majorities in both the Senate (93-5) and the House (374-37), the bill has not been implemented due to the opposition of consecutive US presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.
Each president has justified his refusal to implement the bill by claiming – under influence from the State Department – that the reversal of US policy could provoke uproar throughout the Arab and Muslim world and seriously damage US relations.
The balance of powers set out in the US Constitution empowers the executive branch with authority over foreign policy, which includes the sole power to recognize the sovereignty of foreign states. Any attempts by the legislative branch to dictate to the president on issues of foreign policy are viewed as an infringement on his autonomy.
Consecutive US presidents have insisted on using their executive powers to uphold an anachronistic reading of history. According to the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Jerusalem was to be placed under international control or custodianship. While Israel accepted partition, the Palestinians and neighboring Arab nations rejected the UN resolution and launched a concerted effort to snuff out the Jewish state at its conception. They failed.
Parts of Jerusalem that fell under Israeli control following the War of Independence were outlined in the 1949 armistice line – or Green Line. These areas include a large part of Jerusalem.
But the US – and most other countries – never recognized Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. As a result, official US policy is to view all parts of Jerusalem as illegally occupied by Israel.
US administrations have fastidiously adhered to this anachronistic policy, even in the most extreme cases. Just last month, in an embarrassingly obsessive adherence to the minutiae of diplomatic protocol, the official transcript of US President Barack Obama’s eulogy to Shimon Peres was amended to reflect the US position that Jerusalem should be under an international custodianship, and not a part of the Jewish state.
The transcript originally listed the eulogy ceremony as being held in “Jerusalem, Israel.” Six hours later, the White House sent out a corrected version with the word “Israel” crudely crossed out of the header.
The US State Department goes to such extreme measures in order not to provoke the Arab and Muslim world. But, as we have argued in the past, caving in to extremists who refuse to recognize Israeli sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem only encourages more extremist behavior, because it proves that intimidation works.
Just walking around Jerusalem, a city that has flourished and grown beyond recognition for the betterment of both Jews and Arabs during the years it has been reunified under Israel’s control, one is struck by the sheer absurdity of the US’s position.
Trump is a man who appears to be willing to break with diplomatic protocol. It remains to be seen whether he will stand behind his promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, and thus officially recognize contemporary reality. Doing so does not preempt a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Through direct talks, Israelis and Palestinians will one day decide the final borders that separate them. No matter what the outcome, however, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital. US policy should reflect this simple fact. Will Trump be the president to make it happen?