Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is Still a Bad Idea

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on December 13, 2016

Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said yesterday that moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a “big priority” for Trump.

This pledge is a campaign stunt that recent Presidents of both parties – once elected – have all recognized to be a reckless and bad idea.

Conway had this to say about why President-Elect Trump is still interested in moving the embassy:

“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.”

This betrays a profound ignorance of the situation on the ground in Jerusalem, the danger to America’s national interests of making such a move and the views of the American Jewish community.

The Situation on the Ground.

While Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided capital,” the city is, in fact, neither.  Jerusalem is a clearly divided city between easily defined Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. And the 70 square kilometers that Israel claims as the boundaries of municipal Jerusalem can only be described as eternal if one’s definition of forever goes back only 49 years.

Both Israelis and Palestinians anticipate one day having their nations’ capital in Jerusalem, and UN resolutions and American policy have recognized that the city’s ultimate status can only be determined as part of the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the city’s status is resolved, undoubtedly many nations, including the US, will move their embassies there – both to Israel and to Palestine.  At the moment, not one nation has its embassy there.

Danger to US Interests.

Jerusalem is a powder keg. Upending the status quo with an announcement like this is a surefire way to make it explode.

Even minor changes of the status quo in fact or law have immense symbolic impact and carry the potential to spark violence. A decision to move the United States embassy — with its implication that the US recognizes Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem — could well spark unrest and violence not only in Jerusalem but across the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Republican and Democratic presidents alike have understood this. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act requiring the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May of 1999, but granting the President the authority to suspend the funding limitations for a six-month period. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama consistently utilized the waiver every six months to prevent moving the embassy, citing national security reasons.

All but the most reckless of American policy makers easily grasp the dangers of making this symbolic and inflammatory move.

Misunderstanding the American Jewish Community.

Finally, Conway is under the impression that most American Jews would support moving the embassy. That’s unlikely. A Gallup poll conducted this year showed that just 24% of American Jews would support the move (roughly the same percentage that voted for Trump). Moreover, 70% of American Jews support a two-state solution that includes Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as part of the future capital of Palestine.

Ill-advised, short-sighted steps in Jerusalem – like moving the US Embassy – move us further away from the two-state solution – which is actually supported by the majority of American Jews.

Moving the embassy would lead to violence, damage US interests and be opposed by the majority of American Jews.

Those are ample good reasons not to do it as every president before has recognized.

Here’s to hoping that President Trump will quickly come to the same realization.

Learn more about J Street's Position on Jerusalem

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