Given the apparently resolute intention of President-elect Donald Trump to fulfill a campaign promise and promptly order the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it’s hardly a surprise that various forms of pushback have begun manifesting themselves.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly warned – perhaps even with a straight face – that the move would likely end any chance for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jordan’s King Abdullah declared that the act would cross an Arab “red line.” Other Arab leaders said it would constitute a “declaration of war” against the Arab world. The always predictable J Street whined that it would not be fair to the Palestinians.
Soon-to-be ex-secretary of state John Kerry and old State Department hand Martin Indyk predict Palestinian mayhem if the embassy is indeed moved, as if such would be a reasonable response to the move. Both have noticeably not called on the Arabs to refrain from violent reaction.
And we doubt Sunday’s terrorist truck attack in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, which killed four Israeli soldiers and injured seventeen others, was unrelated to the embassy issue. It would be quite a coincidence if there were no connection, as the site of the attack marks the geographical border between the so-called eastern and western halves of Jerusalem and is in close proximity to the current location of the U.S. Consulate General, which is considered a probable site for a relocated U.S. embassy.
In any event, the relocation issue places Mr. Trump at a crossroads of sorts, even at the outset of his administration. Relocation unavoidably touches on at least three key issues for the president-elect: He cannot cavalierly jettison a significant and oft-repeated campaign promise; he cannot be seen to use specious arguments in order to disobey the law; and he can ill-afford to be seen as kowtowing to the blandishments of foreign powers – especially when to do so would violate U.S. law.
We can only reiterate what we’ve said before: Moving the embassy would not just be the honoring of a campaign pledge but is actually a legal requirement.
Thus, the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995, required that the embassy, located in Tel Aviv, be moved to Jerusalem by 1999. It also declared that as long as such change did not take place, the State Department was to be restricted in the amount of congressionally allocated funds it could spend in connection with its overseas operations.
But because the spending restriction could have serious adverse effects on those operations, the president was also given the authority to waive the penalty provisions every six months. Nowhere, however, does the law permit the president to suspend the continuing legal requirement that the embassy had to be moved.
Unfortunately, all U.S. presidents since 1999 – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – have opted not to move the embassy, disingenuously claiming that the waiver provision authorizes them to decline to order the move itself.
And there is another part of the 1995 law that deserves attention. Included in a provision titled “Statement of the Policy of the United States” is the following:
“(1) Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which every ethnic and religious groups re protected and (2) Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.”
We are encouraged that the president-elect seems determined to fulfill his campaign commitment to move the embassy and in so doing follow the law and refuse to be intimidated by our adversaries.