Jerusalem Move Just a Capital Idea

COMMENTARY Middle East

Jerusalem Move Just a Capital Idea

Dec 11th, 2017 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Peter Brookes

Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs

Peter helps develop and communicate The Heritage Foundation's stance on foreign and defense policy through his research and writing.
The decision doesn’t prejudice any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. iStock

Key Takeaways

President Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv is a totally defensible diplomatic decision.

This decision could vivify moribund peace talks.

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital city and we should have an embassy there to more fully engage the Israeli government.

Face it: No matter what anyone says, President Trump’s move to finally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv is a totally defensible diplomatic decision.

You wouldn’t know that listening to some folks.

First, the change rights a glaring anomaly in U.S. diplomatic practice in which Washington, D.C., doesn’t officially recognize the chosen capital of another sovereign state. Where else is that the case for us?

Uh, nowhere.

Good grief, we recognize the chosen capital of communist Cuba, nuclear North Korea and terrorist Iran, but not that of democratic Israel, our closest ally and friend in the messy Middle East?

Come on.

Next, the decision — which Congress approved for the first time in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act but which has been waived by presidents ever since — doesn’t prejudice any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Among other issues, these parties are free to decide the fate of Jerusalem as they wish, including single sovereignty, dividing the city between East and West or making it an open city as an important place of worship for the three Abrahamic religions.

At the moment, we have a consulate in Jerusalem for conducting relations with the Palestinians, but no embassy in Jerusalem for managing ties with the Israeli government there (such as Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Does that make sense?

Plus, this decision could vivify moribund peace talks. The Palestinians — deeply divided between Fatah in the West Bank and (terrorist) Hamas in the Gaza Strip — have a real incentive to move on the reconciliation plan they hatched in Cairo in October.

That, of course, won’t be easy.

But let’s be honest, like any complicated, international decision, there are some potential downsides to moving to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate our embassy there.

Among them is the prospect of large protests and possible violence against U.S. regional interests — including diplomatic facilities, military bases and American troops. Hamas has reportedly called for a “day of rage” today after Friday prayers.

Of course, Iran and ISIS and al-Qaeda will try to make propaganda hay of the announcement — not that they aren’t already spinning whatever they can about the U.S. for their evil ends.

The decision could also delay progress in any peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — but you really have to use the word “progress” lightly, considering the headway — or lack thereof — to date.

It’s also possible that some of the Middle East’s key Sunni Arab players (such as Saudi Arabia) will distance themselves from the United States over the decision, but with Shiite, Persian Iran on the offensive and terror ever present, that would be foolish.

Washington will remain indispensable.

The fact is that finding peace between Israel and the Palestinians is their responsibility; we can facilitate a deal alongside others who support the peace process, but we can’t unilaterally impose a lasting solution.

Once the two sides find agreement on a comprehensive peace, we can adjust our policies as necessary to support U.S. national interests. Frankly, that could be some time from now.

For the moment, on balance, we should recognize the obvious: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital city and we should have an embassy there to more fully engage the Israeli government.

This piece originally appeared in The Boston Herald