It's time to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem
November 3, 2017
President Trump’s first overseas trip in May 2017 coincided with a very special day—the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, when for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple by Roman armies 2000 years ago, Judaism’s holiest sites were finally under Jewish sovereignty.
Jerusalem is a vibrant, modern, thriving city. A pilgrim site central to the history of Jews, Christians and Muslims, and open to people of all faiths. The home of the Israeli government, parliament and high court. A place interspersed with universities, museums and ancient buildings. The perfect capital. But what is missing are the embassies of the world to the State of Israel.
President Trump vowed to change that. During his election campaign, he promised to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “fairly quickly.” Yet in June, he waived a 1995 law mandating the move, as every president has done before him.
In an interview with former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, Trump poured cold water on the hope of relocation again. “I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said, referring to his efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Trump seems to have fallen victim to the persistent myth that the chances for peace would be undermined by affirming Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem. Fifty years later, the Jewish people are still paying the price for the refusal of the Arabs to accept the partition plan.
Responding to Trump’s comment, Senator Charles Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, renewed his call for the president to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Criticizing Trump’s “indecisiveness,” Schumer said that “Moving the embassy as soon as possible would appropriately commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification and show the world that the U.S. definitively acknowledges Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
Schumer’s position is not as controversial as critics of the move like to claim. It is a consensus idea in Israel. And there has long been bipartisan support in the U.S. for the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which authorized the relocation of the embassy.
“Non-fulfillment of the law does no good to the U.S.-Israeli relationship or to prospects for Arab-Israel peace,” a group of Democratic and Republican senators wrote to President Clinton in 2003, urging him not to invoke the waiver.
Moving the embassy could have a positive effect on the Middle East. It would show our strongest ally, Israel, that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as its capital. And it would tell Israel’s enemies that the security of the Jewish state is non-negotiable for Washington. The Russians would understand that the Americans are reasserting power in the Middle East, a region left at the mercy of brutal dictators and religious fanatics by the previous admiration.
And the Palestinians would come to realize that unilateralism will no longer be rewarded and the only acceptable path forward are genuine peace negotiations.
For too long, the decision has been delayed over misplaced concerns over Palestinian incitement. Incitement against Israel has been an integral part of Palestinian discourse for generations. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently said about Jews in Jerusalem: “Al-Aqsa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.”
It would therefore be a mistake to understand Palestinian incitement as a reaction to a political decision. It does not require the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for the Palestinian leadership to spew out a constant barrage of poison against the Jews. The resentment is far more deep-rooted than that, propagated by central political institutions and celebrated on Palestinian streets.
When you name public squares and women centers after terrorists, you are encouraging a culture of hatred. When you celebrate suicide bombers as “martyrs” and role models for Palestinians, you are glorifying violence. When you deny Israel’s right to exist and deny Jews to live in their ancient homeland, you are preaching a genocidal ideology.
Former U.S. peace negotiator Dennis Ross once warned that there cannot be successful negotiations if there is one environment at the peace table and another environment in the streets. “The Palestinians’ systematic incitement in their media, an educational system that bred hatred, and the glorification of violence made Israelis feel that their real purpose was not peace,” Ross said.
There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem for 3 millennia and Senator Charles Schumer should be congratulated for following a long tradition of bipartisan support for the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem.
Joshua S. Block is CEO and president of The Israel Project.