An American embassy in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv or both?
Since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, U.S. diplomatic representation has been located in Tel-Aviv. The United States, which 11 minutes after Israel’s declaration of independence recognized the Jewish state, supported the UN Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947 that sought to preserve Jerusalem in the hands of the international community. After Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Jerusalem was divided. Its western portion was controlled by Israel while East Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan (nonetheless Jordan did not named East Jerusalem as their capital; Amman remained as their capital). At the end of the Six Day War, and after 19 years of Jews not having stepped on East Jerusalem where the Kotel is, Israel managed to unify the city for the first time in its history. Now Israel could repopulate Jewish-majority communities in the Eastern part (in 1881, 8,600 Jews lived in Jerusalem making them the biggest religious group in the city), and take control over the Kotel and the Temple Mount. Nevertheless the “Status quo” achieved with Jordan on the Temple Mount limits Jewish presence where the First and Second Temple of Jerusalem once stood. Anyway, Israel was now able to rebuild the Hebrew University in Mount Scopus, clean up the Jewish tombs that had been used as latrines, and unite in its entirety the capital that conquered King David 3,000 years ago.
Despite this, and after East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel alongside urban centers adjacent to Jerusalem in 1980, no diplomatic mission in the country recognized the legitimacy of this move. Not even the United States. However, under Bill Clinton’s presidency, this position clearly changed with the approval of the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995. This act gives an explicit mandate of law for the US embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem. Interestingly, the legislation does not establish whether or not the embassy can be settled down in East Jerusalem, so under this legitimate legal technicality it might be established in East Jerusalem. However, the decision of moving the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem depends on an executive order from the president. A maneuver that after Oslo II in 1995, was not performed by President Clinton. Since then, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and all candidates from both national parties have made promises to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. However, nothing has happened. In spite of this, and after the electoral victory of businessman, Donald Trump, this precedent might change.
Trump, who among his closest friends has made it clear that he will not change this position and has not cared in criticizing intelligence reports and allies who have informed him about the dangers of carrying this out, has appointed David Friedman as his ambassador. Friedman, who stood for more than 20 years as Trump International’s lawyer, and his top adviser on Israeli affairs, has repeatedly made clear that the US will transfer its embassy to Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, this move is going to be carried out not only because of Trump’s commitment to Friedman and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but because Donald Trump understood why it is important not to remain neutral with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and why it is important to be nice with Israel’s current coalition government.
In fact, this stance of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was critical for Trump to raise votes among the US-Israeli diaspora which a good portion of them resides both in Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem. Recently, I spoke with an Israeli diplomat on this subject. In this conversation, the diplomat told me a great idea he has. He believes that the United States should have “two-embassies.” He believes that the US embassy should be located in Jerusalem but its main functions should be performed in Tel-Aviv. In this way, the ambassador can be in two different places (which would be key not to move away from the diplomatic world which is in Tel-Aviv) and of course, protect his physical integrity before any possible Palestinian uprising against this new reality. This idea fascinates me because the US interests are obviously protected in both scenarios and the principle of having diplomatic representation in which the governmental headquarters where the mission is located is fulfilled. This measure not only fulfills a campaign pledge made by Trump to gain sympathy among members of Netanyahu’s coalition, but will once again strengthen US-Israeli relations. This move will end the uncertainty and instability generated by Obama’s support for UN Security Council Resolution 2334.