In his interview with CNN's Wolf Blizter last Friday, Senator John McCain pledged to move the U.S. embassy in Israel "right away" from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Like President George W. Bush and Senator Robert Dole before him, McCain's empty promise to move this embassy is a shameless attempt to use hypocritical campaign rhetoric to win over the pro-Israel and Jewish communities. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital is certainly a legitimate issue for the state of Israel and its supporter to raise. However, it is crystal clear that not only is this not a priority for successive Israeli governments, but that the politics of the Middle East makes any promise of an immediate relocation a false one.
Tuesday, in a Jerusalem Post column titled, "Washington Watch: Blowing smoke over Jerusalem," Douglas Bloomfield wrote that McCain ought to get real:
John McCain should know better, and so should pro-Israel voters. The GOP nominee-to-be must think we're a pretty gullible bunch of nudniks if he expects us to believe that he will move the US embassy to Jerusalem "right away" if he is elected president.
It won't happen, and he knows it.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this sort of commitment, except that McCain has not explained how he will deliver on his promise where Bush failed. In his column, Bloomfield compares McCain's promise to Bush's similarly strong declaration he made while running for president. During the campaign, Bush said he would move the embassy only to dodge his commitment every six months throughout his years as president. Bloomfield continued:
Who does he think he is, George W. Bush? Candidate Bush made the same pledge eight years ago. He promised to move the embassy on his first day in office, but backtracked to say he'd "begin the process" on the first day. We're still waiting.
Like his predecessor, Bush has signed waivers every six months delaying the 1995 congressional mandate to move the embassy. McCain voted for that law, but hasn't pressed the issue except on the campaign trail, and he hasn't objected once to Bush's waivers of his own 2000 campaign promise.
Specifically, Bush said, "As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital" (AIPAC, 5/22/2000). Were McCain to become president, it seems that he would be no better positioned to deliver the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel than Bush.
Unfortunately, McCain's campaign long ago decommissioned the straight talk express, and McCain's allies and advisers have resorted to making a promise that they know they can't deliver. Bloomfield reveals what may be behind this tactic:
A look behind the curtain may help understand this deviation from McCain's promise of straight talk. His top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, served in that role for Bob Dole when he ran for president and introduced the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act in 1995. Coincidence? Since Dole was never among Israel's top 91 friends in the US Senate unless he was seeking the presidency, it was widely assumed that his real motivation was raising Jewish money.
It's an old ritual, trying to use the embassy issue to embarrass your political opponents in a transparent bid for Jewish support.
By making this promise McCain avoids "straight talk" and reverts to "talking down" to the pro-Israel and Jewish communities. The McCain campaign demonstrates a deaf ear when it comes to these voters. Do they actually believe that the pro-Israel and Jewish communities will believe another GOP presidential nominee will deliver on a promise when the previous nominees failed to do so?
As for the actual policy of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Bloomfield reports that he believes this is more of the same:
Moving the embassy has never been a high priority for any Israeli leader in meetings with American presidents. They see it as a political football in an American game they prefer staying out of.
All recent prime ministers have understood that an agreement on Jerusalem is critical to any peace settlement with the Palestinians - and that symbolic action like American politicians trying to force the embassy move can only make an agreement more elusive.
But the game continues even though seasoned political observers understand it's a sham. This year is no exception. Any politician who tells you he's going to move the embassy before the Israelis and Palestinians come to an agreement on the city's final status and borders thinks you're wearing a name tag that says "chump."
The U.S Israel relationship is too important - and the pro-Israel community too sophisticated - to be persuaded by such nakedly empty campaign rhetoric. The Republicans may not have noticed, but they and their party's nominees have a record on this issue. In light of their record, this popular campaign season promise doesn't even pass the smell test.