After two decades of procrastination, it’s time to move the American Embassy to West Jerusalem. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and requiring the embassy be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since then, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have signed a presidential waiver every six months to delay the relocation.
Part of the rationale for maintaining the status quo has been that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should follow the conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. This would be a compelling argument if the Palestinian Authority was actually demonstrating a willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations.
The most recent American-brokered peace talk collapsed in 2014 when Palestinian President Abbas abandoned the negotiating table and sought to form a unity government with Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction. It wasn’t the first time that President Abbas abandoned dialogue and compromise in favor of a partnership with Hamas. In fact, he has done so half a dozen times, most recently, last month.
Rather than pursing direct negotiations with Israel, President Abbas has reneged on his promise and pursued a series of unilateral actions, including by signing onto more than a dozen international conventions. He has also launched an all-out diplomatic war against Israel, championing UNESCO resolutions that deny Judaism’s historical connection to Jerusalem.
President Abbas has succeeded in avoiding serious negotiations, in part because the international community seems to see no problem with the Palestinian Authority making a series of futile pacts with a terror organization publicly committed to annihilating Israel.
The first step in countering the Palestinian Authority’s delegitimization efforts is for the new administration to recognize the legitimacy of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Some fear a sort of reverse Midas touch, wherein any action taken by the controversial new president will automatically be deemed catastrophic, and therefore argue that it’s best to maintain the status quo. This is ceding the moral high ground. After all, it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing, and relocating the American Embassy to West Jerusalem is right for three reasons:
First, American foreign policy should lead and not lag. It should reflect the fact that the West Jerusalem is an unequivocal part of Israel. When a peace deal is eventually reached between Israelis and Palestinians, East Jerusalem may well become the capital of the Palestinian State, but it won’t change the status of West Jerusalem. The only ones who reject Israeli sovereignty over the western side of the city are the same ones who reject Israel’s right to exist.
Second, this is no way for America to treat an ally and a friend. Since 1950, Jerusalem has been the heart of modern Israel’s democracy. It is the seat of the State’s governmental, legislative, and judicial institutions, as well as, home to the offices of its President and Prime Minister. Israel’s capital deserves the same recognition and respect as that of any other nation in the world.
Third, the State Department is engaging in a mystifying diplomatic dance by pretending that Jerusalem is unattached to any country. The 2012 exchange of a journalist asking a State Department spokesperson about the capital of Israel is equal parts comedy and tragedy. The reporter asks ‘What is the capital of Israel?’ and the spokesperson attempts to pivot off the question by offering up a Rolodex of safe speaking points.
Earlier this year, President Obama traveled to Jerusalem to eulogize former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres. The funeral took place on Mount Herzl, well within the boundaries of West Jerusalem. Following the service, the White House released a transcript of the president’s eulogy listing the location of the speech as “Jerusalem, Israel,” only to issue a correction hours later that crossed out the word “Israel.”
The diplomatic dodging has become farcical. The distance from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a mere 40 miles, but this short move is long overdue.