Disclaimer: It is dangerous to make any attempt to explain the Middle East in less than four volumes, but on the issue of our embassy in Jerusalem, I will attempt to nonetheless.
The city of Jerusalem holds a place of special importance in the story of civilization, and on December 6, President Trump acknowledged its unique connection to the people of Israel in particular. Standing in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on that day, he officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As a concrete result of this action, the American embassy to Israel will soon transfer from Tel Aviv, where it is currently located, to Jerusalem.
President Trump’s move grabbed headlines. I am surprised that so many consider it newsworthy, however, because the President is simply following the law.
Twenty-two years ago, Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed and signed into law by President Clinton in 1995. Further, the law declares as a statement of policy that “the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”
Presidents who have served since passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act have exercised the law’s provision allowing him to waive recognition of Jerusalem as the capital every six months in the name of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
If Congress had any second thoughts about the soundness of the law, its Members haven’t expressed them recently; the Senate reaffirmed it in a resolution that passed 90-0 in June.
President Trump’s action is not one of unilateral lawmaking but one of faithfully executing the law, just as the office of president was conceived in Article II of the Constitution.
Critics have painted ugly pictures of the consequences that will follow the United States moving its embassy to the same city that currently houses Israel’s government. The Atlantic called it “a deadly provocation,” while a Washington Post headline suggested the move “could spark unrest.” The Post may not have noticed that plenty of unrest can be found in the Middle East already. There will likely be perpetual unrest while Israel’s enemies still deny its right to exist.
Israel has had to fight for its survival from the beginning. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War began one day after Israel came into being as a state. During the 1967 Six Days War, Israel had to fend off all of its neighbors save Lebanon. Some of those enemies, such as Egypt, have since come to terms with Israel’s presence. But many haven’t.
When I visited Israel in 2014, we were able to download an app that would show us the trajectory of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip, a territory controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Hamas is also a significant political player in the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory, as well. Those shells came despite the American embassy being in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. When a country or group doesn’t think Israel should exist in the first place, as Hamas does, how can it possess the moral authority to tell the United States where it should place its embassy?
The peace process between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples has been stalled for a long time. Waiving the Jerusalem Embassy Act hasn’t brought them any closer to a lasting peace. Albert Einstein is famously attributed with defining insanity as doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result.
So that raises the question: has there really been any movement in the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis since 1999? Is there not a time to acknowledge that keeping our embassy in Tel Aviv is not really the issue? Isn’t the issue Palestinians wanting Israel driven into the sea, and knowing that keeps Israelis from agreeing to a full-fledged Palestinian state?
As President Trump noted, recognition does not determine the American position on the details of a potential peace settlement, but recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital shows all the actors in the Middle East that the United States follows through on its commitments embedded in law. It enhances our country’s credibility. It does not fundamentally alter the reality in the Middle East, since Israel is already governed from Jerusalem.
Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel carries out American law, respects one of our closest allies, and does not signal the outcome of the peace process. I believe it is the right call.
Congressman Morgan Griffith