Will Trump move the US Embassy to Jerusalem? – Politico
Donald Trump wasnât the first winning candidate to call for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, but unlike previous presidents, he just might keep his promise.
Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made similar pledges during their campaigns, only to backpedal once in the Oval Office — sobered by the potential for diplomatic blowback across the Arab world.
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But Trump has done what few of his predecessors have: emphasize the issue loudly and proudly afterwards. His campaign adviser on Israel, Jason Greenblatt, told Israelâs Army radio in a post-election interview that Trump was âgoing to do it,â and his campaign manager on Monday called the move âa very big priority for this president elect.â
“He made it very clear during the campaign, Hugh, and as president-elect I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly,â Kellyanne Conway, now a senior transition aide, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
âWeâd never been at this point before, where the guyâs already won and he conveyed it was a high priority for him,â said David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute of Near East policy.
âThe fact that Conway repeated it now is different,â agreed Daniel Kurtzer, who served as ambassador to Israel under George W. Bush.
Trump signaled his intentions again on Thursday, when he announced conservative attorney David Friedman as his pick for ambassador to Israel.
Friedman, who has deep ties to the settlement movement, has previously said he opposes a ban on construction activity in East Jerusalem and that he believes Trump will uphold his promise to move the embassy.
âI intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israelâs eternal capital, Jerusalem,â Friedman said in the release announcing Trumpâs choice.
Thanks to a law signed by Bill Clinton, Trump will face a decision on whether to move the embassy within his first six months in office. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 mandates that the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or risk a massive cut in State Department funding, but allows the president to postpone the move for reasons of national security.
Since the lawâs passage, successive presidents have issued such a waiver every six months. The most recent one, signed by Obama on Dec. 1, expires in May 2017, meaning it will be up to Trump to decide the embassyâs fate.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, naming it the âeternal capital of the Jewish peopleâ in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But on other occasions, he also indicated he wanted to be a neutral arbiter between Israelis and Palestinians, and has floated his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, as some sort of peace envoy.
âIf I go in, I will say Iâm pro-Israel,â said Trump during a GOP primary debate on CNN. âBut I would like to at least have the other side think Iâm somewhat neutral.â
Those whoâve worked on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations say that moving the embassy would effectively kill the peace process.
âIt would essentially validate the view that all of Jerusalem now belongs to Israel,â said Aaron David Miller, a former peace negotiator and scholar at the Wilson Center.
Even if negotiations were to proceed, the decision could undermine Trumpâs wish to be a neutral arbiter.
âA U.S. administration would be seriously harming its potential role, as it has historically played, as a so-called âhonest brokerâ between the Israelis and the Arabs,â said Edward Djerejian, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and ambassador to Israel under the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.
The status of Jerusalem, particularly East Jerusalem, is fervently contested in the international community. The United Nations intended the eastern portion of the ancient city to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. In 1967, Israel annexed the entire city.
In 1980, the Knesset, Israelâs parliament, passed a law that declared, âJerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.â The U.N. Security Council condemned the move as a violation of international law, with the United States abstaining.
The majority of U.N. member states do not recognize Israelâs claim over the entire city as the capital. As a result, no country has its main diplomatic mission located in Jerusalem, with their embassies instead located in Tel Aviv and its suburbs. The United States maintains a consulate in Jerusalem that focuses on Palestinian issues.
During the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush promised he would begin moving the embassy as soon as he took office. But Bush never made relocating the embassy a priority, according to his ambassador to Israel.
âIt was never broached in anything I was involved in,â said Kurtzer, now a professor at Princeton University. Israeli government officials prioritized its American military aid and the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard over moving the embassy.
During Kurtzerâs confirmation hearing, then-senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, asked Kurtzer if he was ready to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Kurtzer responded that he was â100 percent ready when the president is ready to do so.â
After 9/11, the Bush administrationâs concern was that moving the embassy would antagonize Arab countries whose support it needed in the War on Terror.â
âGeorge [W.] Bushâs Middle East was a Middle East before the Arab Spring. It was a time when people still thought this was the main issue Arabs cared about,â Makovsky said.
Unlike his two immediate predecessors, Obama never promised to move the embassy.
âIt was not something that was seriously considered in the context of what the Obama administration was trying to do,â said James Cunningham, the ambassador to Israel from 2008 to 2011.
The Arab uprisings of 2011, along with the regional contest for supremacy between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has sidelined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But moving the embassy could bring the issue back to the center of Arab political consciousness in an explosive way.
âSuch a move would fuel the radical jihadists. It would give them a new cause to gain adherents,â Djerejian said.
âGiven how important the issue of Jerusalem is for Muslims around the world, and especially at a time when Islamist terrorist groups systematically exploit the Palestine issue, this will also constitute a potentially explosive provocation,â said Rashid Khalidi, director of Columbia Universityâs Middle East Institute.
Despite the risks, bipartisan support exists for moving the embassy. Pro-Israel Republicans and Democrats are hopeful Trump will follow through as president.
âHeâs unlike any other predecessor in any other position,â said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, noting that such a move was âlong overdue.â
Brooks pushed back on the idea that moving the embassy would undermine Trumpâs ability to be a neutral arbiter between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
âNo negotiation is ultimately going to change the fact that Jerusalem is going to be the capital of Israel,â said Brooks. âHaving the United States recognize that doesnât compromise [its] integrity abroad.â
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer was an original co-sponsor on the Jerusalem Embassy Act and has expressed support for relocating the embassy.
âSenator Schumer has long supported moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and has called on both Democratic and Republican Presidents to make this happen,â Matt House, Schumerâs spokesman, told POLITICO in an email.
Arab and Muslim organizations in the United States strongly oppose the move and insist it would be counterproductive for the peace process.
âWeâre going to condemn the move, weâre going to say this is going to negatively affect the U.S. standings in the Middle East and fuel an already tense situation in that region,â said Oussama Jammal, Secretary General of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations. His organization is the largest umbrella group of American-Muslim organizations.
âI think it sends a message that this a president who basically just doesnât care.. and is willing to insult an entire group of people, a billion-plus people in the world,â said James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab-American Institute, who is a Catholic of Lebanese descent.
Relocating the embassy could also prove awkward for Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — three close American allies who would likely protest such a move.
Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Saudi-Israeli relations have quietly warmed in recent years, based on mutual suspicion of Iranâs nuclear and regional ambitions. Relocating the embassy could risk what is now an uneasy peace.
Trumpâs greatest problem may ultimately be in explaining how moving the embassy ultimately serves an âAmerica Firstâ agenda, said Miller.
âItâs hard to come up with a single act that would make the Middle East burn more than it is burning right now,â he added.