After a flurry of reports in Israeli media claiming that U.S. President Donald Trump is on the verge of announcing Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday, “This is a premature report. We have nothing to announce.”
The Trump Administration’s efforts to dampen Israeli hopes came in response to a report broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 (Hadashot) television news, saying a decision could come as early as this Sunday.
Part of the reason for all the excitement has to do with the fast-approaching December 4 deadline by which the president must either approve the transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in accordance with the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, passed in 1995 by Congress, or sign a waiver that allows him to block the transfer on the grounds that such a move presents a risk to national security.
Trump campaigned heavily on a promise to move the embassy upon taking office; but as have all his predecessors, despite his vow to be “different” he signed the first waiver in June.
He justified the decision so as to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” as the statement said at the time.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority’s leading Fatah faction — also headed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas — told reporters shortly after the inauguration that such a move would “open the gates of hell” and that “Palestinian people won’t allow that to happen.”
Professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University’s School of Law also recently noted that arguments focusing on practical security issues “have not aged well” since 1995 when they were first raised.
“They can be summarized by saying, ‘Don’t move the embassy until the Palestinians and maybe the Egyptians and Jordanians say it’s okay.’ This holds American policy regarding its embassies subject to third-party waivers, something that exists nowhere else in the world.”
He pointed out that the sole justification — that of “national security concerns” — that enables a president to sign the waiver makes it easy to understand why those in the Palestinian Authority and others express their objections with threats of violence. “They continue to [do it] because they see that it works,” he said, “meaning that waiving the law because of such threats actually [perpetuates] them.”
The White House warning on Wednesday that there is “nothing to report” makes it clear that another signature on a waiver is more likely than not. President Trump is still a long way from being ready to toss in the towel on a peace deal that could span the entire Middle East — or at least one that could bring some form of quiet between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
It is possible the president might still officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — or at least, “Western Jerusalem” — as Russia has already done. But recognizing “Western Jerusalem” and in effect delegitimizing the unity of the eternal capital of the Jewish State is more damaging to Israel than no recognition at all.
A lack of recognition at least does not imply that division is desirable, appropriate or acceptable.
For Jerusalem, the proverbial “half a loaf” would be an ill-served portion indeed.