Trump is about to fulfil a 23-year-old promise we made to Israel

  • In 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Act recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
  • For 23 years, the US has pushed off putting its embassy in the nation’s capital.
  • Trump has made good on this years-old promise, and the embassy will officially move to Jerusalem next week.

The US embassy in Israel will officially be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday.When that happens, it will be the belated fulfillment of a promise the US made to Israel 23 years ago.

In 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed into law. It determined that “each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital.”

It also recognised some basic realities on the ground:

  • “Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel.”
  • “The city of Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s President, Parliament, and Supreme Court, and the site of numerous government ministries and social and cultural institutions.”
  • “In 1967, the city of Jerusalem was reunited during the conflict known as the Six Day War.”
  • “The United States maintains its embassy in the functioning capital of every country except in the case of our democratic friend and strategic ally, the State of Israel.”

These realities haven’t changed, and it’s a good thing the US is finally making good on its promise to acknowledge them and act accordingly. Section 7 of the Embassy Act contained a provision under which presidents were entitled to push off the moving of the embassy in six-month chunks. Until now, every president has done that.

President Donald Trump’s decision will not come without consequence, as even the most ardent Israel supporters (and Israelis themselves) have noted. Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s defence minister, said on Saturday that “the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem will come at a price,” but that it would be “worth paying it.”

It doesn’t help that the ceremony takes place the day before the Palestinians will commemorate Nakba Day, or the day of the catastrophe, when they mourn the establishment of the State of Israel, and the ways in which their lives changed as a result of its creation.

Noga Tarnopolsky noted in the LA Times that “the Israeli army anticipates that the confluence of both dates, plus a massive rally planned for Nakba Day on its southern border with the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Islamist militia Hamas, could provoke new violence in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.”

Those predictions will likely prove accurate, but the Palestinians should recognise that they are no longer dealing with the Obama administration. Trump’s foreign policy team will not reward reactions of violence, nor will they be persuaded to change policy priorities based on Palestinian scare tactics.

What they will do is attempt to incentivise the Palestinians to come back to the peace-process table. The Jerusalem Post reported that US officials told Liberman that the administration “will ask Israel to withdraw from four Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.”

That will be a bitter pill for right-leaning Israelis to swallow, but should signal to both sides that Trump (or rather, his Middle East advisors) are serious about searching for a solution.

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