By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Terminating the Department of State policy which refers to the whole of Jerusalem as an international (not Israeli) city, recognizing unified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, represent a litmus test of President-elect Donald Trump’s resolve to Make America Great Again, by defying Arab/Muslim pressure and threats, as well as overruling the politically-correct establishment of the Department of State.
Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is, also, a litmus test of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intent to leverage the non-conventional Trump/Pence worldview, which abhors domestic and international political-correctness, respects firmness and the defiance of odds, recognizes Israel as a unique ally in the battle against the Ayatollahs and Islamic terrorism, and is aware that US national security interests transcend the Palestinian issue.
The decision to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem will usher in the Trump era, setting President Trump apart from his predecessors, underscoring the independence of US unilateral – rather than multinational – action, distinguishing him from the US and international foreign policy establishment and setting him apart from the UN worldview, while reflecting the state-of-mind of most Americans.
Establishing the US Embassy in Israel’s capital will signal Trump’s determination to resurrect the US posture of deterrence, which has been eroded in recent years, underlying a realization that succumbing to pressure and threats fuels violence, while defying them deters rogue elements and advances security and the prospects of peace. For example, in 2011, the Department of State warned the White House against vetoing a UN Security Council condemnation of Israel’s settlements policy, lest it fuel terrorism. Contrary to the December 1988 US recognition of the PLO and the 1993 Israel-PLO Oslo Accord – which intensified Palestinian terrorism and hate education – vetoing the UN Security Council resolution was not followed by bloodshed.
While moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would not undermine or prejudge the peace process – since the location of the Embassy is in pre-1967 Israeli Western Jerusalem – a failure to implement the law will further radicalize the Arabs, who cannot afford to be less demanding that the US, thus presenting more obstacles to the pursuit of peace.
The relocation of the US Embassy to Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem, will implement US law, the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which enjoys massive support on Capitol Hill and beyond, but was not implemented by presidents who abused national security as an excuse for non-compliance.
Relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem will, also, be consistent with the worldview of the early Pilgrims and the US Founding Fathers, as reflected by the existence of 18 Jerusalems and 32 Salems (Shalem was the original name of Jerusalem) in the US, and by the spelling of JerUSAlem.
Jerusalem was central to the agenda of Israel’s Founding Father and first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. In December 1949 – at the end of Israel’s War of Independence – he declared Western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in defiance of brutal pressure from the US, and notwithstanding harsh opposition by Israeli President Haim Weizman and Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, who predicted costly consequences, diplomatically, economically and militarily. Resisting the US call to refrain from annexing – and constructing in - Western Jerusalem, Ben Gurion relocated government offices and the Knesset from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and built new neighborhoods all the way to the ceasefire lines in Jerusalem, thus enhancing the stature of Jerusalem and Israel.
However, in 1995, I heard from a frustrated Senator Daniel Inouye – who was Israel’s leading supporter on Capitol Hill – that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin collaborated with President Bill Clinton in pressuring US Senators to insert a waiver provision into the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which enjoyed a veto proof majority. That waiver enabled US presidents to suspend implementation of the Act, supposedly, due to national security considerations.
Similarly, in July 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak asked Senators Lieberman and Kyl to heed President Clinton’s request to shelve an updated edition of the Jerusalem Embassy Act – supported by 84 Senators – which would revoke the waiver provision, prescribing a $100MN deduction from the Department of State budget upon non-implementation. Barak contended that the initiative was “ill timed,” and would amount to sacrificing the peace process on the altar of Jerusalem. However, Barak’s slapping the face of Israel’s friends on Capitol Hill – and his proposed unprecedented, reckless concessions to Arafat - sacrificed Jerusalem on the altar of a failed peace process, further radicalizing Palestinian expectations, and therefore dooming the peace process.
Recent months suggest that President-elect Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu realize that the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem is their litmus test.
President-elect Trump has demonstrated his politically-incorrect vigor to learn from the past by avoiding presidential errors, to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem and to bolster the US posture of deterrence, while projecting his own compliance with the US law of the land.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will not sacrifice the unique potential of the Trump/Pence team on the altar of political correctness, and therefore will follow in the footsteps of Ben Gurion, who would not sacrifice Jerusalem on the altar of “doomsday assessments,” realizing the critical geo-strategic impact of his attitude toward Jerusalem on Israel’s power projection, deterrence of Israel’s enemies and cooperation with the politically-incorrect, newly-elected President Trump.