By: Robert Heilberg
It’s not a controversial idea that a foreign embassy is typically located in a country’s preferred or official capital city. Washington D.C., the home of the U.S. government and the capital of the United States is home to foreign embassies from around the world. The reason why those embassies are located in Washington is not done so by accident. The work that foreign embassies and their appointed ambassador do relies on proximity to the central power and core institutions in the host country. It’s the same reason why the U.S. embassy in Germany is located in Berlin, not Hamburg or Frankfurt, or why we station our ambassador to China in Beijing, not Shanghai or Nanjing.
I think my point has been made. This standard holds virtually true for every country on earth that desires and can sustain diplomatic missions in the capital city; with the exception of just one: Israel. Israel has long maintained Jerusalem as its capital city. Jerusalem is home to the central government institutions of the Israeli government; the President, the Knesset (the legislative branch of the Israeli government), and the Supreme court. Yet, the world’s embassies to Israel are housed in Tel Aviv. It makes little sense that the world would locate their embassies in Israel away from the country’s main government institutions. The diplomatic community and the world at large has decided to ignore this fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel at the expense of Israel’s legitimacy, in the hopes that a fleeting peace agreement can one day be achieved.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special advisor for the peace process, Jared Kushner, along with Jason Greenblatt, have essentially been given an impossible mission in trying to secure a deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The issue of Jerusalem remains too contentious and highly non-negotiable for both sides. Even when parts of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, were on the table in 2008 in an offer from then Israel prime minister Ehud Olmert, current Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas rejected the deal, considered to be the most generous and expansive of its kind. But then again, how can renewed peace talks begin when Abbas has publicly stated that he will, “never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.” It has been this fleeting prospect of a peace deal that has kept the U.S. from officially moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite Congress overwhelmingly passing the Jerusalem Embassy Act more than two decades ago. Former U.S. Presidents including George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have publicly supported and campaigned on the idea of moving the embassy, but used a presidential waiver on national security to prevent this action out of fear of the reaction from the Arab World.
President Trump is ending a long cycle of balking on an issue that is central to the identity of one of America’s greatest allies and strongest strategic partners in the Middle East. To continue to deny Jerusalem a U.S. embassy and full diplomatic recognition as a part of Israel and its true capital would continue to play into the narrative of the many enemies of the Jewish state,These enemies have attacked its legitimacy since its inception, and in many cases, have never sought true regional peace and security. The embassy move is indeed controversial and will certainly lead to violence. However, if fears of violence and intimidation proved too great for the American will in the past, the U.S. would have never supported the partition plan for a Jewish state to exist in the first place.
Before the U.N. General Assembly took up the partition plan in 1947, the C.I.A. warned that “armed hostilities between Jews and Arabs will break out if the U.N. General Assembly accepts the plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.” As Shmuel Rosner wrote in the New York Times, “ President Harry Truman decided to support partition despite the warnings. The C.I.A. was right; the Arabs responded with violence, leading to Israel’s War of Independence. Thanks to that, the Jewish state was even larger than the borders mandated by the United Nations, and the Palestinians still don’t have a state. But Truman was right, too; he proved himself a friend of the Jewish people, willing to take risks for what was right.”
As Rosner notes, Truman was not deterred by the C.I.A.’s assessment because he knew that accepting and embracing the partition plan was the right thing to do, and ultimately, Truman ended up on the right side of history. No matter the outcome, history will recognize Donald Trump’s decision as being on the right side of history as well. Building a physical embassy will take years, and the process itself will likely outlast Donald Trump’s presidency. Nonetheless, the symbolism alone in the leader of the free world stating the obvious on the world stage will set an important global precedent. It will set a precedent that the U.S. and Israel will not be intimidated by threats of violence or terrorism, and they will stand firmly together against the international community’s repeated attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Photo Source: New York Times