US Embassy in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Election promises have been broken probably dating back to ancient Greece when candidates pledged to eager voters to build more bathhouses, only to later discover that other priorities or political considerations rendered the plans unfeasible or imprudent.
During his campaign last year, US President Donald Trump endeared himself to many Israelis by vowing to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, something that none of his predecessors had any interest or willingness to do. That stance, combined with Trump’s unparalleled alignment during the campaign with the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government regarding the peace process with the Palestinians, imbued a sense of euphoria among the most right-leaning MKs and ministers that the Trump era would feature unprecedented coordination between the US and Israel regarding the future direction of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
However, since his January inauguration, Trump has proven to be a more savvy politician in his foreign policy than in his shambolic domestic agenda. Through his willingness to act against Syria’s regime, Afghanistan and North Korea, the new president has thrust the US back into the forefront of the international scene, following eight years of president Barack Obama’s leading from behind policy.
He has also demonstrated that, despite his over-thetop campaign rhetoric, he’s not going to roll over and be Netanyahu’s poodle by offering a blank check to Israel for settlement expansion. Regarding the embassy move, Trump invoked his Greek moment by repeatedly hedging on his enthusiastic pre-election pledge.
His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was the latest administration official that doused the flames of the eventuality of the embassy being moved to Jerusalem, telling a US interviewer that the decision “will be informed by the parties involved in those talks – and most certainly Israel’s view – and whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
“[Trump] wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine,” Tillerson continued. “And so, I think in large measure, the president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process.”
According to reports in the Israeli media, American magnate Sheldon Adelson, a big supporter of Trump during the campaign, was incensed by Tillerson’s comments. And it’s likely that his good friend Netanyahu was not too happy either. The prime minister quickly issued a statement explaining why moving the embassy to Jerusalem wouldn’t harm the peace process.
“It will correct a historic injustice by advancing the [peace process] and shattering a Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem isn’t Israel’s capital,” Netanyahu said.
Moving the US Embassy would certainly have the effect, but it would influence the Israeli people in a much more profound manner. By taking a stand on an issue that clearly holds great emotional and symbolic significance for a great many Israelis, Trump would be implementing a huge confidence-boosting measure – one that would possibly enable the Israeli people to put some trust in his ability bring the two sides together and allow them to get behind a peace push that would require future, likely painful, concessions.
And despite Netanyahu’s reasoning, the act of moving the embassy would not preclude, at the end of successful future negotiations, a declaration of Jerusalem also being the capital of a Palestinian state.
As he arrives next week for his first visit as president to Israel, just a day before the country marks 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem, Trump has a rare opportunity to change the course of the future for the people of the region.
A 1995 congressional law mandates that the US Embassy be situated in Jerusalem. US presidents have signed waivers to the law every six months since its passage, delaying its implementation. Instead of continuing that tradition at the end of May, Trump can declare in a loud voice from the top of Masada next week that the US Embassy is going to move to Jerusalem. It could be his most presidential act yet.