President-elect Trump spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, was asked on the Hugh Hewitt national radio show on December 12 about whether Trump will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Conway responded “That is a very big priority for President-elect Trump. 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.” Conway went on to elaborate, “It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for. It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the sound bites.”
Conway’s comments are a reiteration of the views publicly expressed by Ivanka Trump only a few weeks before the election. Ivanka Trump was asked if her father would really recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as other Presidents’ have made such a promise and did not keep it. She was adamant in her answer. Not only did she say 100% that he will, but further she referred to Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
The issue of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is not just a policy question but a U.S. law whose interpretation is subject to dispute. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 93-5 and the U.S. House by a vote of 374-37. The act recognized a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Clinton opposed the act and let it become law without his signature and he did not veto it because his veto would have been overridden with the 90% support the law received in both Houses of Congress. The Jerusalem Embassy Act was supported by both parties including by the current VP Joe Biden and the current Secretary of State John Kerry. It is ironic that both Kerry and Biden today criticize Israel for building in the eastern section of Jerusalem even though they voted to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the eastern section of Jerusalem in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.
Since the Jerusalem Embassy Act is U.S. law then the obvious question is why has successive U.S. Administration’s not recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in apparent disregard for the law. The reason is that President’s have interpreted a waiver provision in the law as meaning that they do not have to comply with the law’s terms if they invoke the waiver. The waiver has been invoked every six months by successive President’s since the law’s passage. However, over 80 U.S. Senators, including at the time Senator John Kerry, signed a letter to President Clinton that the waiver provision only applies to moving the Embassy to Jerusalem but not to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Understanding that there will be a dispute concerning the waiver provision, the Act’s originator, Senator Jon Kyl, initiated a colloquy on the Senate Floor with Senate Majority leader Robert Dole to elucidate the meaning of the waiver to mean only in a clear threat of national security to the U.S. can the waiver be invoked. The Senate letter and the colloquy was ignored by President Clinton and there was no legal standing for the Senators to challenge what they termed an improper institution of the waiver provision of the law.
Successive administrations of both parties have issued the waiver and explained their justification that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could jeopardize the peace process. Just after Hamas took over Gaza, I asked then Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman as to why President Bush was not now recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as he promised in his campaign. because there was no longer any peace process to jeopardize with such recognition. There was no way for Mr. Mehlman to answer this question as the logic was clear that in reality successive Presidents just did not believe in following the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 as the law was interpreted by those who wrote it .
It is obvious that the policies of both Republican and Democratic Administration’s of not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite promises to the contrary (both President Clinton and President George W. Bush promised to do so and the Democratic Platform under President Obama, with his direct encouragement, promised to do so as well) needs to change. It is hard to understand how successive Presidents can say they support Israel’s right to secure borders and at the same time not recognize the unification of Israel’s capital without which would mean the end of secure borders for Israel.
Further, when the Congress passed a bill requiring the U.S. State Department to put Israel on the passport of Americans born in Jerusalem (currently only Jerusalem is listed with no country) the law was ignored by the Executive Branch. However, there was standing in this case as there were Americans born in Jerusalem to challenge the law and the Zivotofsky case went up to the Supreme Court twice. Eventually the court ruled that the issue of what to put on a passport is the decision of the Executive Branch and the administration need not comply with the law. in the arguments, the advocate for the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, stated, “The position of the executive (viz, Obama) is that we recognize, as a practical matter, the authority of Israel over West Jerusalem.” However, the Obama Administration successfully fought to not put Israel on the passport of Americans that were born in the western part of Jerusalem for which the administration stated that they recognize Israel’s authority. This position of successive U.S. Administration’s may finally be changed by Trump.
Recognizing Jerusalem will strengthen an ally and end the embarrassment of Israel being the only country that the US does not have an embassy in its capital. Further, Americans born in Jerusalem can finally have Israel put on its passports. Finally, the U.S. Consulate in the eastern part of Jerusalem that acts as a defacto embassy to the Palestinian Authority and is the only Consulate in a country that reports directly to Washington D.C. will finally be told to act as a Consulate to Israel and report to the Embassy.
A major reason why Trump received 25% of the Jewish vote and Hillary Clinton 71% is because most Jews did not believe Trump would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem because other Presidents promised to do so and failed to keep their commitments Though some claim that Israel is not a priority to the Jewish community, historical records show that Israel is important to Jewish voters. When President Carter was not perceived as being friendly to Israel his support in the Jewish community dropped from 71% to 45% in his two Presidential elections. When President George H.W. Bush with Secretary of State Baker was perceived as unfriendly to Israel, his support dropped from 35% of the Jewish vote to 12% of the Jewish vote. There has been concern over President Obama’s friendship to Israel (President Obama made big efforts to strengthen his support for Israel before his re-election) and due to these concerns, American Jewish support for Obama dropped from 78% support to 69% support when he won re-election. If Trump does recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital it is likely his support in the Jewish community will jump significantly because, historically, over 20% of Jewish voters will change their vote on issues concerning Israel and there is no issue more important concerning Israel for Jewish voters than Jerusalem.
President-elect Trump has campaigned that he will not just follow policies because these have been policies for many years. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be a welcome and significant step by Trump The ramifications of such an action by Trump could, by itself, dramatically improve the security of Israel and vastly increase the support for President-elect Trump within the American Jewish community.