What Could Happen if Trump Moves the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem?

Proposed site of U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. (photo: Getty Images via Economist)

By Rebecca Shabad / CBS News
December 20, 2016

“Even though the peace process is, I think, comatose and is unlikely to advance in the near term, why overload the circuits and potentially take a step that could permanently undermine the prospects of a two-state solution? You’re simply going to feed Iranian propaganda, you’re going to feed Sunni-jihadi propaganda and most likely, you’re going to trigger a fair amount of violence and even terror.”
— Aaron David Miller, The Woodrow Wilson Center

Moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may have been one of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises, but experts and Palestinian officials are warning of serious consequences if he follows through.

“We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem — and we will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel,” Mr. Trump said in a speech to the powerful Jewish lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March.

Last week, in an indication of Mr. Trump’s seriousness, he announced that he would nominate bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman to serve as ambassador to Israel. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, made clear in a statement that he looks forward to doing the job from “the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, called Friedman’s nomination a “serious mistake” in an op-ed in The New York Times over the weekend.

“The consequences of acting upon Mr. Friedman’s public suggestions are clearly dangerous. Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem — not a pressing issue for most Israelis — will inspire riots across the Islamic world,” Kurtzer wrote.

For nearly 70 years, the U.S. embassy has been based in Tel Aviv — along with embassies of almost all other countries with relations to Israel — because the U.S. has wanted Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to determine the final status of Jerusalem. The United Nations’ original partition plan from 1947 on Palestine called for Jerusalem to be an international city. The U.S. government, as a result, does not officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Efforts to relocate the U.S. embassy from the coast of Tel Aviv to the holy city have surfaced periodically since at least the early 1980’s. President Reagan and his secretary of state, George Shultz, were against the move, and Reagan even threatened to veto legislation pending in Congress that would have made the move a reality.

About a decade later, lawmakers passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, proposed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Signed into law by President Clinton, the measure authorized the U.S. to move the embassy to Jerusalem by 1999 with one caveat — the president could indefinitely delay the move by signing a waiver, citing national security concerns.

While Clinton and President George W. Bush similarly pledged at different points to move the embassy, they both repeatedly signed the waiver to prevent the embassy’s relocation throughout their presidencies because they said it would undermine the peace process. President Obama renewed the waiver in early December, and it is now set to expire next June.

The president-elect and his advisers, since the election, have made clear he’s serious about moving the embassy. Speaking to radio show host Hugh Hewitt last week, Kellyanne Conway said that moving the embassy is a “very big priority for this president-elect.”

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