With his December 6 statement, President Donald Trump has fulfilled his pre-election promise, repeated since his election in November 2016 and also consistent with the Republican Party’s platform, that he will move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital.
In doing so, he has ended a 22-year epoch in which the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Law, passed with overwhelming majorities in the Senate (93–5) and House (374–37), had been essentially a dead letter.
Due to the presidential national security waiver contained in the 1995 Law, successive presidents continually deferred implementing the law for 6-monthly periods.
Now, as a result of President Trump’s shift, standard diplomatic practice of locating embassies in the designated capital of countries will be applied by the US to Israel.
The consecutive presidential waivers deferring action on the Law was always wrong, a misuse of a presidential discretion contained in the Law. Accordingly, what was designed, according to then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, to be utilized solely in genuine and exceptional cases of threats to national security was instead, without explanation or justification, perpetually invoked for unspecified national security interests and supposedly in the case of peace, every six months.
Yet, as President Trump noted in his statement, the 22-year use of the waiver brought the parties no closer to peace.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to violate its Oslo Accords obligations to arrest and jail terrorists, disband terrorist organizations and end the incitement to hatred and murder that suffuse the PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps. It refuses Trump Administration demands to end paying salaries to jailed terrorists and stipends to their families.
Moving the embassy, is therefore important not only symbolically but practically: for too long, the threat of violence and terrorism has intimidated successive administrations from implementing the law –– something that communicates a dangerous message of US irresolution and weakness.
The policy shift also puts to an end a perverse anomaly whereby the US supposedly recognized Israel within the 1949 armistice lines, but in reality exempted even those parts of Jerusalem that fall with the 1949 armistice lines from being deemed sovereign Israeli territory.
The notion that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy there should await, and thus be held hostage to, an Israeli/Palestinian Arab peace settlement, was never valid. The contours of an eventual peace settlement, should one ever emerge, is in no way affected by US recognition or locating the embassy there.
Indeed, not only were two issues never properly related, but the international insistence on delaying action on Jerusalem in deference to an apparently open-ended ‘peace process’ in reality camouflaged the fact that the anomalous status quo represented a caving in to an Arab position predicated on not accepting Israel’s legality and permanence as a sovereign state.
This is the actual reason for Arab/Muslim opposition to Jerusalem being recognized was Israel’s capital –– not the Arab connection to the city, which has been often casual and remote until the emergence of Israel; not because of its holiness to Islam, whose holy book, the Quran, never even refers to the city; nor because of its political importance to Islam, when no previous Muslim regime ever made the city its capital.
Indeed, even when the eastern half of Jerusalem was under Jordan’s control (1948-67), Amman remained the Jordanian capital. No Arab leaders other than Jordanian monarchs visited the city and its Muslim sites, and the city itself fell into neglect, often lacking electricity, running water and sewerage.
Surely, then, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and locating embassies in the city poses no problem where there is genuine acceptance of Israel’s legality and permanence. The Arab hue and cry over President Trump’s decision merely underscores the absence of such acceptance in the Arab body politic.
Detaching Israel from Jerusalem is one of the holy grails of the Palestinian movement. That’s why PA senior official and former ambassador Abbas Zaki succinctly explained in 2011: “If they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? … They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status … If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse.”
Indulging the anti-peace pieties of Arab societies is surely not the job of the United States or any other country; all the more so, where foreign governments profess to be committed and supportive of genuine peace efforts.
President Trump today dealt a blow to the Palestinian Arab design to detach Israel from Jerusalem by showing that the US is no longer willing to indulge it. He has also shown that his decisions will not be conditioned on Palestinian Arabs consenting not to resort to violence. By doing this, whatever disturbances might yet take place, he has actually rendered a service to peace, however far off that day might be.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establisment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).
This article was published by Arutz Sheva and may be found here.