Once again a debate has broken out over the movement of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem - Israel's capital. Candidate Donald Trump promised to make this long overdue move, as have all presidential candidates for several decades. The difference is that Trump will most likely honor his promise. President-Elect Trump has already announced his intent to nominate David Friedman, who is most vocal in his own support for moving the U.S. Embassy, as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
Israel declared its independence as a sovereign nation in 1948 and shortly thereafter declared Jerusalem as its capital - which is the right of any sovereign state. The fact that both the Obama White House and State Department refused even to acknowledge this over half a century later remains a fundamental disgrace ─ yet another stain on the "Obama legacy." If North Korea, Iran, Cuba and other nations get to decide what their own capital is, why not Israel? Obama himself had no answer and deflected the question. In any event, he will be gone in a month and a new administration that holds a fare more realistic view of Israel will be taking charge.
The debate over Jerusalem predates the Obama administration by several decades and involves the broader legal and diplomatic community. When Israel was admitted to the United Nations in May 1949, a number of U.N. members recognizing Israel refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, citing various U.N. resolutions calling for an international status for the city. Over half a century and several wars later, this pipedream has yet to materialize. The U.N. itself needs to get a better grip on reality, and understand that Jerusalem is and will be Israel's capital. They don't get a say in this matter.
Israel continues to battle the effects of U.N. Security Council Resolution 478, adopted in 1980, and passed in response to Israel's Jerusalem Law. It declared that Jerusalem being Israel's "complete and united" capital is a violation of international law. This resolution also called upon member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city. Within weeks, 11 of the 13 states that had embassies in Jerusalem shut them down, and the last two were closed in 2006. Israel categorically rejected the resolution, and its Foreign Ministry announced, "It will not undermine the status of Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Israel and as a united city which will never again be torn apart."
For their part, the U.S. Congress has done far better. In passing the 1996 Jerusalem Embassy Act Congress, Congress recognized not only Jerusalem's status as Israel's permanent capital but specifically directed that the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing that Israel is the only nation on earth with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations but where the U.S. embassy is not located in that nation's capital. Unfortunately this act also provided the President with the ability to waive implementation of the law, which needed to be renewed semi-annually, on "national security" grounds, and this has been done by every President since the law was enacted. President-elect Trump and several of his key advisers have already indicated that this waiver will no longer be the case and that the law here will be obeyed.
Historically the Western part of Jerusalem has always been part of Israel. The armistice that ended Israel's War of Independence with the Arab states left the city divided with the armistice lines - not national borders - cutting Jerusalem in two. Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day War ended this division and a united Jerusalem merely described reality. Immediately after the war Israel's government united the city, expanding its municipal borders to now include areas that had been under Jordanian occupation since 1949.
Since 1967 a succession of Israeli governments, the U.N. and other nations including the U.S. have looked to a lasting and peaceful resolution of the issues here with the potential establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. One element of this two-state concept is that some part of East Jerusalem might serve as the capital of this Palestinian state - a solution that has managed to escape implementation for many years. While the future of what has become known as the "two state solution" remains in doubt, no question exists as to whether Jerusalem is in fact Israel's capital and, contrary to statements by various prior U.S. administrations, this issue is not even a subject of any negotiation.
Where this process is going now is anybody's guess. The Palestinian leadership has made clear that it has no interest in making peace with Israel, and their intransigence has resulted in stalemate in the so-called peace process for more than a decade. Even true believers on the Israeli Left are now seeing that the vaunted two-state paradigm may simply not be workable. While the 1993 Oslo Accord produced two Nobel peace prizes, the hoped for peace has never been realized as the Palestinians did not reject violence or fully recognize Israel's right to even exist as required. For their part, Trump and his key advisers seem to be taking a broader and more realistic look at the situation.
The proposed move of the U.S. Embassy is now getting additional pushback from opponents less-worried about the U.N. and international law than some prospect that this would somehow make the Palestinians unhappy and lead to additional violence in Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who strongly embraces the move, has stated that Israel is capable of dealing with any possible disturbances. Other opponents are concerned that the move will anger Arab states allied with the U.S. Let them be angry - it will pass. In a region that is in great turmoil, they desperately need the U.S., and where the American Embassy in Israel is located just isn't up to them.
Ultimately Trump cares about solutions that work, and not the optics of what may look good. As Caroline Glick notes recently, "He isn't interested in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem because he cares about recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem or over anything else for that matter. If Trump moves the embassy he will do so to advance America's interests."
Such a move is not just symbolic. I would be a substantial step in correcting some of the damage caused by the Obama foreign policy that impaired U.S. credibility worldwide. The U.S. can begin to rebuild credibility with its most important ally in the Middle East. It is more than just moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. By taking this key step that none of Trump's predecessors were willing to make, it would show critical support of the America's most embattled ally, and that show that America can again be trusted.
The move will accomplish this goal without placing any U.S. military at risk, and at the limited cost of construction and moving - a minute fraction of the billions already wasted on failed Middle East policies and initiatives. Even more important, from Israel's perspective, it shows that Trump, unlike Obama and some other Democrats, sees Israel as an important ally and not a financial burden. It is an important element of the evolving Trump foreign policy which aims to solve problems, rather than avoid them.