Republican presidential candidates routinely promise to move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but after elections routinely tend to forget about it. Donald Trump was not the only Republican to revive that promise in the 2016 election cycle; Jeb Bush offered it in May 2015, following Ted Cruz’ declaration in January 2015, and Marco Rubio has been calling for that change since his first Senate campaign in 2010. By the the debates, most of the GOP’s major contenders had offered support for such a move. (John Kasich said he’d “prefer” it be in Jerusalem.)
Now that Trump has won, the question remains as to whether he’ll make good on the promise or shelve it like his Republican predecessors. CBS News runs down the risks if Trump makes good on it, which include violence from Islamists and the destruction of the peace process:
Last week, in an indication of Mr. Trump’s seriousness, he announced that he would nominate bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman to serve as ambassador to Israel. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, made clear in a statement that he looks forward to doing the job from “the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, called Friedman’s nomination a “serious mistake” in an op-ed in The New York Times over the weekend.
“The consequences of acting upon Mr. Friedman’s public suggestions are clearly dangerous. Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem — not a pressing issue for most Israelis — will inspire riots across the Islamic world,” Kurtzer wrote. …
“It would be unwise and unnecessary to move the embassy,” said Aaron David Miller, vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson Center, who advised both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on the Arab-Israeli peace process.
It’s unclear how relocating the embassy would advance U.S. interests, Miller argued, and he suggested it would only make the situation worse.
“Even though the peace process is, I think, comatose and is unlikely to advance in the near term, why overload the circuits and potentially take a step that could permanently undermine the prospects of a two-state solution?” he said. “You’re simply going to feed Iranian propaganda, you’re going to feed Sunni-jihadi propaganda and most likely, you’re going to trigger a fair amount of violence and even terror.”
Two points come to mind with this argument. It’s actually been US policy since 1995 to locate our embassy in Jerusalem, passed on a bipartisan basis in Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton. The law included a provision that allows presidents to waive the move if it serves US security interests. In that time, Israel has suffered multiple intifadas, while Islamist terrorism has killed many thousands of Americans, both on the battlefield and off. US policy for the Arab Springs made it worse rather than better, none of which had anything to do with the location of our embassy in either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The radical Islamists aren’t motivated by whether or not we’re officially operating out of Jerusalem — their motivation relates to the existence of Jews in Israel altogether.
Second, the ostensible reason we haven’t done this yet is because we want to position ourselves as an “honest broker” in Israeli-Palestinian talks. That posture has done nothing to resolve the situation, not even with Barack Obama’s outright hostility to the Netanyahu government as a credibility boost. The Palestinians still demand the right of return, they still demand up-front guarantees before negotiations, and they still educate their children based on annihilationist views about Israel. Nothing has changed except the spin coming from Washington.
Perhaps Trump sees the futility of trying to broker peace and wants to just dispense with the fantasy by finally abiding by official American policy. It’s also possible that both this pledge and the appointment of Friedman as ambassador is meant to send a signal to the Palestinians that time and our patience has run out. If they want to negotiate in good faith, then they’d better start doing so quickly, or else the window will close entirely. Given Trump’s propensity for high-stakes positions in dealmaking, it’s at least a possibility. That may not be a good long-term strategy for dealing with the West Bank, but it might be the most realistic approach … if in fact that’s what Trump has in mind.
The mayor of Jerusalen, Nir Barkat, tells CBS that it’s about time that the US stood by its ally in its own capital, and says it will “send a message to the bad guys … that Jerusalem will never be divided.”