In 1995, The United States Congress passed (by a vote of 374-37 in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 93-5 in the U.S. Senate) the bill entitled the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. Its stated purpose was “to provide for the relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem. …” So, why is the United States Embassy to Israel still physically located in Tel Aviv? Because the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was rather a hollow act, precisely in the sense evoked by T.S. Elliot in his famous poem:
Between the ideaAnd the RealityBetween the motionAnd the ActFalls the Shadow
Like every president since Congress enacted it, President Clinton did not move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Instead, he implemented the law exactly according to its terms. Those terms provided for the president to waive the deadline specified in the law, a waiver renewable at six-month intervals. Until now, every president since Clinton has done likewise. Each of them certified that national-security considerations overshadowed the provisions of the Act, making it necessary to postpone the action it declared by law to be the desired goal of America’s United States.
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But desirable goals are just that. It’s a desired goal of every household to pay the utility bills each month. But if a shortfall in income routinely overshadows that goal, the householder will not see the way to achieve it, and the household may fall into cold, waterless darkness. Put simply, reality intervenes between the motion of the heart and the act that fulfills its desire. The question is, when it comes to Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel, what corresponds to that obstructive reality?
The diplomatic way of describing it relies on the observation that moving the embassy will interfere with the Middle East peace process. But that process has, time and again, proven itself to be mainly a matter of wishful thinking. It seems especially so these days. How can it be that one object of desire, itself little more than a fond (if not foolish) hope, can become an imperative concrete enough to demand a decision “to protect the national-security interests of the United States,” as required for a presidential waiver under the terms of the Jerusalem Embassy Act?
It makes sense if the peace process is actually about postponing the outbreak of war. This in turn involves the assumption that, if the United States moves its embassy to Jerusalem, as the Act envisages, there will be war. Every waiver of the Act since it passed into law depends on this logic. It is the threat of war, not the process of peace, that has continually overshadowed the achievement of the goal overwhelmingly approved and constitutionally passed into law by the elected representatives of the people of the United States.
Thus, every presidential waiver issued under the law raises the question “Whence comes the threat to U.S. national-security interest that makes the waiver necessary?” Palestinian rioters, who are clashing with Israeli troops on the West Bank even as I write these words, are part of the answer. So are the statements by Palestinian President Abbas who “warned of dangerous consequences … to the peace, security and stability of the world”; and by Jordan’s King Abdullah II who predicted “dangerous repercussions on the stability and security of the region”; and a reported statement by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman saying that “such a dangerous step is likely to inflame the passions of Muslims around the world due to the great status of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Though ostensibly an ally of the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that “Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims. … You cannot take this step.”
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It’s important to note that, back in April 2017 Russia “publicly recognized West Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.” At the same time “Moscow reaffirmed its ‘support for the two-state solution’ while acknowledging that East Jerusalem should be the capital of the future Palestinian state. … We reaffirm our commitment to the U.N.-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israel settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.'” Why did Russia’s move incite no riotous threats of war, regional strife and global Muslim fury? Some would say it’s because, in its statement Russia aligned itself with the view that East Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Though he did not mention East Jerusalem, President Trump said that his “decision is not intended in away way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement … that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.” This leaves open the possibility of a two-state solution, with a capital for Palestine in East Jerusalem, and the capital of Israel in West Jerusalem. It even leaves open the possibility of a result that respects Jerusalem’s status as a separate, united entity, important to the whole international community, so that all governmental administration, no matter its auspices, is held accountable to that whole.
All things considered, the U.S. stance taken by President Trump does not much differ from the similar posture assumed by the Russian government. But Russia has as yet taken no further action to implement its recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In effect, this puts Russia in the posture the United States has adopted since 1995, when, as a matter of fact, it declared Jerusalem to be the site of Israel’s capital. President Trump has promised actually to undertake the work of moving the U.S. Embassy. But like the famous “wall” intended to secure America’s borders, the preliminary stages of preparing for construction will take some time.
A fair observer would therefore conclude that the present posture of the United States is not that different from Russia’s posture. And its main difference from the posture of previous U.S. presidents is that, if he approves no waiver of its terms, the clock counts down toward eventual relocation of the U.S Embassy. But since the original deadline is long past, the countdown has no end point, specified by law. Like most government work, once it begins the timetable depends on the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the government’s actions, which in turn depends on the strength of political will behind them.
Meanwhile, the opponents of Israel in the Muslim/Palestinian world have a decision to make. They can make good on their threats (or ominous predictions) of war and violence, or they can commit themselves to work more urgently toward an agreement. If they take the first course, their violent response, unmasked by Trump’s unwavering stance, will increase the perception of threat to America’s national-security interests, a threat already broadcast in high definition by almost daily reports of Islamist terrorist violence, in the Middle East, the United States and the world at large.
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In that event, the first duty of the president is to deal with that threat, as a matter of highest priority. Instead of a period of serious negotiations ending in peace, there will be a period of stern, implacable war, ending in the destruction of those who pose the threat – as the Trump administration’s conduct of the war against ISIS already proves. And in the midst of that warfare, America’s enduring relationship with Israel will have to figure ever more prominently.
That will come at the expense of nations that refuse actively to side with us against the terrorist threat. Our alliance with Israel, thus affirmed by grim necessity, will make it ever more appropriate and necessary to build a suitable new facility from which to conduct our relations with a key ally. Thus, completion of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem will be ever so much more than a desirable goal. It will be a crucial pillar of our determination to end the reign of Islamist terror, by answering lawless threats of terror with justly determined and effective war. So President Trump acts in the spirit of the psalmist when he says, “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hated peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” (Psalm 120:7)