We would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know by now that Donald Trump has promised to right a historic wrong and relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is a very welcome development, of course – but if the goal is to keep Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty, it is far from enough.
Though several presidents in the past have promised to move the embassy, it appears that this time it may really happen. For one thing, Trump’s ambassador-designate to Israel, David Friedman, has said he will work to strengthen the bonds between America and Israel, advancing the cause of peace, “and I look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
In addition, top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway has indicated the Trump team hopes to move the embassy very early on. Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, said the relocation of the embassy would be a “great step forward to peace.” More than 100 congressmen wrote to Trump last week urging him to promptly relocate the embassy to Jerusalem.
Trump himself told AIPAC, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem – and we will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.”
Yes, there have been signs that the new president might not actually carry through. Fatah, for instance, has warned against the move, in its typical, forked-tongue fashion: To reporters in Rome, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said moving the embassy “would not be helpful” to efforts to achieve peace. To other sources, a Fatah spokesman said the move would “open the gates of hell.” He added that the “Palestinian people won’t allow that happen.”
A number of U.S. officials joined the chorus. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry recently threatened that moving the embassy to Israel’s capital would cause “an explosion – an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region.” He thus essentially not only legitimized but indirectly incited anti-Israel violence throughout the Arab world.
But assuming that Trump will not be intimidated by these threats from within and without, and will demonstrably show the world that the U.S. wishes to lead and not be led, the question still begs to be asked: Will the presence of the U.S. embassy in Yerushalayim ensure the city’s future as Jewish and Israeli?
The answer is clearly no, unless other moves are initiated simultaneously by Israel’s government. As KeepJerusalem has long explained in detail both to decision-makers and the general public, the Netanyahu government must make vital policy decisions to confront and resolve the following three major challenges facing the city.
Demographics: The city’s population is currently 39 percent Muslim – a proportion that is growing, even if at a slower rate than in years past. At the current rate, the prospect of an Arab majority is a real possibility within 10-15 years. Many steps must be taken to thwart this scenario, including the detraction of Arab neighborhoods located outside the security barrier from the municipal borders. These villages must remain Israeli, of course, but as separate municipal or regional councils. With this one step, Jerusalem’s Jewish population can soar to some 70 percent.
In addition, housing and job opportunities must be significantly increased in order to stop the “bleeding” of thousands of Jews each year from Jerusalem to other parts of the country.
Security: As we experienced last week, homegrown Arab terrorism continues to strike at Jerusalem’s Jewish population. A terrorist from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Jaber al-Mukaber drove into a group of soldiers, killing four and wounding many others. Within hours, the area was fenced off, so that a similar attack could not occur. But this is far from a solution. Serious measures must be implemented. These include stronger enforcement of anti-incitement laws, tighter supervision over school curricula, collective punishment in villages, the banishment of terrorists’ families to Gaza or Syria, and more.
Metropolitan Jerusalem: Finally, the status and prestige of Jerusalem must be upgraded. It already has the country’s largest municipal population, but compared to Tel Aviv it is still considered second-rate. A plan such as Jerusalem5800 must be implemented – one that addresses not only the city itself, but the greater metropolitan area comprising a very large surrounding expanse planned as an integral unit.
Jerusalem must become the center, from many standpoints, of the area from the Jordan River and Dead Sea in the east, Beit Shemesh in the west, Beit El and Ofrah in the north, and Gush Etzion to the south. The plan foresees an international airport, larger than Ben-Gurion, in the Judean Desert southeast of Maaleh Adumim; an exponential increase in Jerusalem’s tourism from the current 2.5 – 3 million visitors a year to possibly at least 10 million; stepped-up large-scale hotel construction in and around Yerushalayim; a sweeping transportation scheme including subways, national train routes, and new highways; and much more.
Certainly moving the embassy of the world’s largest and strongest country, and our must trusted ally, to Jerusalem is welcome and important. But it will remain only a symbolic gesture if both government and non-governmental bodies do not take begin taking Jerusalem’s other major challenges most seriously, in a very proactive manner.
Let us redouble our efforts to make sure that Jerusalem remains united, in word and deed, under Jewish-Israeli rule. To learn the facts via bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem, or to receive updates on the battle to keep Yerushalayim, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.