In the lead-up to President Trump’s decision to allow the US embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem (following the 20+ year-old wishes of the United States Congress), we have heard warnings from around the Arab/Muslim world (including from allies and unofficial friends) that such a move would lead to violence, the end to the peace process and even directly threatened repercussions. And yet, almost no voices in Israel, from right to left, have criticized such a decision.
This is because, peculiar as this may seem to the “common wisdom,” moving the embassy to Jerusalem is not a political act. Thus, the issue does not fall within the left-right-center political debates here.
To be sure, many things surrounding the decision are political. But the move itself is not. That decision simply recognizes facts, and thus rectifies a historic wrong as old as the State of Israel itself.
For starters, a few facts:
Israel is the only country in the world where foreign governments place their embassies in a city that is not the capital. While there is no legal requirement for an embassy to be located in the capital city, it is the de facto scenario around the world. And the logical one.
But what defines a capital? Well, that is easy to answer. Just look it up in any dictionary, and you will see that a capital is the “seat of government.” There is no denying that Israel’s seat of government is Jerusalem. It is the location of the Knesset, the various ministries, the Prime Minister’s Office (and residence), The president’s office and residence, and the Supreme Court.
There is thus no logical reason why any embassy in Israel should be located anywhere but Jerusalem. Moving the US embassy there would recognize this, and fix the irrationality of the embassy’s location in Tel Aviv.
No politics there.
Virtually everything else in this whole story, however, is where you’ll find politics at play.
For starters, the very decision of any government to place their embassy in Tel Aviv. We would expect any government to continually follow its standard policies. When it makes an exception to standard procedure, it has acted politically.
The reasoning most often given for placing embassies in Tel Aviv is that the countries refuse to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem. But that is an equally political statement, as even from the birth of the state (long before East Jerusalem was conquered by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War), many governments that recognized the country placed their embassies outside of Jerusalem. So politics also underscores this stated rationale.
What about the international reactions in the lead-up to Trump’s decision? Turkey, for example, has threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Israel if the move takes place. Could anything be more political than threatening Israel for an action that the United States takes? It offers the same “logic” as Saddam Hussein firing scud missiles at Israel in response to the US invasion of Iraq.
Palestinian threats of renewed violence? Equally political, as yet another blatantly obvious excuse to do what they have repeatedly done anyway for the past few decades.
Criticism by Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia? Political, because we know their statements are purely for image purposes. Israel is a much closer ally to any of them than the Palestinian Authority is. But they must pay public lip-service to supporting the Palestinians.
So yes, the decision to move the embassy is entwined with political considerations. But the politics is in everything that holds the embassy (and all others) away from Jerusalem.
Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem takes politics out of the equation.