Posted by Kristin McCarthy on December 17, 2016 in Blog
*Originally published on December 15, 2016
The foreign policy establishment in Washington, D.C. is rightfully losing sleep over President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to open a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. While many presidential candidates have flirted with the idea of moving the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, each and every elected President since 1967 has refused to do so. However, there is ample reason to fear that Donald Trump might just be the President to follow through on this particular promise in defiance of prevailing wisdom. In addition to his reported personal commitment to the move, reports that there are U.S. officials actually scouting various locations in Jerusalem for an Embassy make the fear ever more real. Another, even more frightening, alarm bell came today, when it was announced that David Friedman would be nominated to serve as Trump's Ambassador to Israel. In an official statement released by the transition team, Friedman said, he looks forward to serving "from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
It's worth noting an interview on Monday where Trump’s close advisor and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway laid out her understanding of Trump's rationale, saying, “It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for. It is a great move.” While we can hope that Conway’s talking points do not reflect Trump’s full analysis of the issue, her distilled rationale is still worth examining.
First, it might be true that Israel would prefer and appreciate the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, a designation that has been withheld as a matter of final status negotiations. However, U.S. national security interests should – without a doubt – be a more important consideration for such a move. Suffice it to say there is a voluminous amount of dooms-day worry about global violence following recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While Israel might prefer it, the U.S. security landscape surely does not. Conway is factually correct on this first score, but incorrect on every other level (politically, diplomatically, etc).
Second, Conway cites support for the move from Jewish Americans. It’s true that the predictable Israel lobby actors are lobbying for the move. But Conway is either unaware of – or discounting – the Jewish Americans who oppose the move absent of a broader diplomatic settlement. Major Jewish organizations like J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Americans for Peace Now oppose the move. And of course, American Jews are just one domestic constituency on this issue. Arab Americans are deeply invested, engaged, and vigilant on the issue of Jerusalem and U.S. foreign policy towards Palestinians more broadly. If Conway is looking for popular domestic support for the policy (let’s not forget populist messages largely won Trump the presidency), she’s likely to find more prolific opposition from engaged communities.
Since 1995, consecutive U.S. presidents have signed a waiver every 6 months preventing the embassy from moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because reasons to do so – aside from one of Conway’s “gift” rationale - don’t exist, and reasons to stop the move are innumerable.