Move it! William Mehlman

“President Trump and the U.S. Embassy in Israel,” blared the headline over a CNBC report by Justina Crabtree. “What’s going on?”

What, indeed, is going on? The relocation of his embassy to Jerusalem, among the 45th president’s “top” priorities, according to election campaign co-manager Kellyanne Conway, has, eleven weeks into his administration, been reduced to an afterthought. Only Conway insists on its continued importance. White House Press Secretary  Sean Spicer replies to queries about it with the dismissive assertion that “we are only at the very beginning of even discussing this subject,” an apparent invitation to “get lost.” President Trump, on the same subject, informs us, albeit less testily, that “it’s too early” to speculate on an issue he’s been thumping since the primaries or that “we will see what happens.”

Too early? Barely fit for discussion? We’ll see what happens? Granted, the subject was bound to raise Chicken Little consternation from Amman and Riyadh to Paris and Brussels.  But having made a promise he repeatedly promised to keep, Mr. Trump owes us more than the back of Sean Spicer’s hand. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, currently overseeing the president’s cyber intelligence operations, seems suddenly overwhelmed by the complexities of hanging a “U.S. Embassy” banner on a building waiting to be employed in western Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu is being accused of caving in to President Trump’s apparent fixation on the “greatest peace deal” that isn’t ever going to be made with a money-grubbing charlatan solely interested in the disappearance of Israel. If health care, tax reform, immigration control, the taming of North Korea and the defanging of a nuclear-bent Iran are to share precious time and attention with the blind alley pursuit of Mahmoud Abbas’ consent to live in peace with a Jewish state, they could all terminate in the dustbin along with Trump’s Congressional majorities and his hopes for a second term.

The best of all reasons for moving that embassy out of Tel Aviv and doing it now are staring the president in the face. If there is to be the new order in the Middle East hinted at by his missile strike against Assad and the massive cave bunker buster directed against ISIS’s attempt to set up shop in Afghanistan, it must begin with the de-isolation of Israel, the region’s prime military and economic power. There’s nowhere else to turn. However impressed Mr. Trump may have been with King Abdullah’s Ivy League English, his majesty and his economic and political train wreck of a government would have been gone years ago were it not for Israel’s support. It is at least partial reliance on that same support that has underlined Sisi’s strategy in Egypt, confronted as he is by a deposed but not defeated Moslem Brotherhood and an increasingly radicalized Sinai Bedouin population. Saudi Arabia remains a corrupt oil oligarchy under a national flag incapable of dealing with a two-bit foe in Yemen. They’ll all carry on for the TV cameras over the embassy move even as they go to ground over their vulnerability to a Shia arc of power–Teheran to Sanaa and most everything in between–that could relegate Sunni primacy to the history books. Israel, its strengths and its links with the U.S., is their lynchpin, not a Palestinian nightmare.

Daniel Moynihan

The suggested relocation of the American embassy to Israel’s capital was a product of the fertile mind of New York Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the early 1980s.  It was not until the ill-conceived 1995 Oslo II Accords, however, that it was given flesh in an initial draft jointly crafted  by  David Parsons, currently  vice president and senior spokesman for the Jerusalem-based International Christian Embassy,  and Richard Hellman, chairman and founder of CIPAC, a Washington, D.C. pro-Israel Christian lobby.  Driven by Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl and scheduled for joint introduction by then Senate Minority leader Bob Dole and Hawaii Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye, the “Jerusalem Embassy Act” had majority support in both Houses but was deemed several votes short of the 67 in the Senate that would be needed to override a threatened veto by President Bill Clinton, who considered the measure a legislative incursion on his executive powers. California Democrat Diane Feinstein, still unfortunately ensconced in the Senate, was enlisted to pull Clinton’s chestnuts out of the fire and came back with a “package deal” guaranteeing the votes needed to veto-proof the JEA but at the price of a “waiver authority” giving Clinton and all who followed him into the White House power to suspend the bill’s provisions every six months if they certified to Congress that doing so

Diane Feinstein

was in “America’s national security interests.” “We instantly understood the waiver provision was intended to gut the bill since it removed any means for Congressional enforcement,“ Parsons lamented. And with a record of 35 six-month waivers exercised by three presidents over the last 21 years it has proven only too sadly true.

Any hope that the hobbled JEC would, If nothing else, have finally laid to rest a U.S. diplomatic position enunciated in 1948 declaring Jerusalem divorced from Israel and to be regarded as an independent “International Zone,” was crushed under  the Obama Administration’s heavy tread on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. The Court voted to block a Congressional law proceeding from a class action by Jerusalem-based American citizens demanding the right of their Jerusalem-born  children to show Israel as  country of birth on their American passports. The Court respectfully declined to override U.S. diplomatic protocol.

Putting aside 3,000 years of history stretching from King David’s anointment of Jerusalem as the physical embodiment of Israel’s mission as a light unto the nations to King Hussein’s failure to set foot in the city during the 19 years of its illegal occupation, nothing would more ill-serve Donald Trump’s credibility with friends and foes, domestic and foreign, than a retraction of one of the most reiterated commitments of his primary campaign. No matter whether in the face of pro-forma Arab threats or in deference to a two-state pipe-dream whose non-existence is as much a fact of life as the rising and setting of the sun.  It is precisely the perception enstamped by the Obama presidency that America does not stand by its allies in the Middle East–Mubarak in Egypt, the “Green Movement” in Iran, a nuclear self- disarmed Gaddafi in Libya, Israel in its most recent confrontation with a toxic UN Security Council–while nodding and winking to its enemies that has been the undoing of American influence in the region.

It will not be refurbished by catering to “Arab sensibilities” over a building on Agron St.  Sunni Arab cooperation with Israel is grounded in self-interest. Moreover, “the idea that U.S. foreign policy is to be determined by the possibility of murderous force by terrorists,“ as recently noted by ZOA President Morton Klein, “is unworthy of a world power.”  On the contrary, it could be argued that prompt action on the embassy relocation might enhance whatever chances for peace still exist by finally dissipating the Arab notion that Jerusalem and Israel are divisible entities. The latter’s only lease on life is America’s continued failure to correct an anomaly that has kept Jerusalem’s indivisible relationship to the Jewish state under a blanket for 69 years.

Reuniting the city with its sovereign base, as David Bedein, who heads the Israel Resource News Agency explained in a recent Jerusalem Post article, may require more than suspending the semi-annual presidential waiver rights that have kept enforcement of the Jerusalem Embassy Act in a lock-box since 1995. Jerusalem’s non-recognition as part of Israel and its confinement to an imaginary “international zone,” Bedein submits, remains embedded in U.S. diplomatic law and its removal could require surgical legislation.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz may be looking in that direction with a bill, co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Dean Heller of Nevada, that recognizes Jerusalem as “Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.” The bill includes a proviso suggesting Congressional delay of budgets to the State Department until the embassy relocation is completed. “It is finally time to cut through the double-talk and broken promises,” Cruz asserted, “and do what Congress said we should do in 1995.”

“Under President Trump, if the world knows nothing else, the world will know that this America stands with Israel.” Those were the words of Vice President Mike Pence to a packed AIPAC convention less than a month from this writing. Their translation into action must not be further delayed.

 

William Mehlman represents AFSI in Israel.

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Editorial Board: Herbert Zweibon, Ruth King

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June 2017
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