Donald Trump makes the highly anticipated announcement about the move related to the future US Jerusalem Embassy and US policy in the region right now. The news took many by surprise since many prior Presidents had made the same vow but would always sign the six-month waiver to delay the move. For better or worse, this is a bombshell announcement and could have ramifications for the entire middle east.
For the past week speculations have varied over whether or not President Trump would make good on one of his key campaign promises.
As a candidate, President Trump promised time and time again that his administration would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and eventually move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where the Knesset, the parliament of Israel, sits.
After much media back-and-forth, President Trump expected to announce later today plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which would make the United States the only country to host their embassy in the Middle East’s most contested real estate.
The Palestinian authority claims East Jerusalem as their capital, although their administrative center is located in the West Bank city of Ramallah, while Israelis claim the entire city of Jerusalem as their capital, following Israel’s military victory in the Six Day War in 1967, which saw Israel seize control of East Jerusalem from neighboring Jordan.
In order to execute the move, a new embassy must be built in Jerusalem, which is expected to take at least three years.
The process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem actually began in 1995, when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Although the law was meant to move the embassy to Jerusalem by 1999, the act allows the president to sign a waiver which would delay the embassy move for six months, on the grounds of national security concerns. Each president since Bill Clinton has put off the move every six months of his presidency.
The moving of US embassy to Jerusalem
Republican presidential candidates have consistently promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Two former presidential candidates, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz cosponsored a bill with Senator Dean Heller earlier this year called the “Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act.”
Despite the fact that Jewish Americans tend to vote Democrat, an American embassy in Jerusalem has long been a Republican party platform. The official 2016 party platform announced at last summer’s National Convention explains:
Like America, the modern state of Israel is a country born from the aspiration for freedom and stands out among the nations as a beacon of democracy and humanity. Beyond our mutual strategic interests, Israel is likewise an exceptional country that shares our most essential values… Therefore, support for Israel is an expression of Americanism… We recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and call for the American embassy to move there in fulfillment of U.S. law.
While the statement draws connections between American patriotism and the support for Israel, pro-Israel rhetoric generally appeals most to the Evangelical vote, an all too important demographic that can make or break Republican presidential hopefuls.
Many Evangelicals see the rebirth of the Jewish state and Israel’s subsequent military and economic success as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, while literal biblical interpretation holds that the Jewish people are the Chosen People of God. Evangelicals imagine a divine connection between the Chosen People and followers of Christ, who is believed to have been Jewish. With the United States seemingly becoming more secular, Evangelicals increasingly feel marginalized, leading many to draw connections between the persecution of the Jewish people and their own perceived alienation.
Conversely, the Catholic leader, Pope Francis has expressed his concern over the announcement, calling for the “status quo” of the city to be respected. The most holy site in Catholicism, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the place where Catholics believe Jesus was killed and buried, is located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The political fallout of the announcement is uncertain, but protests in Gaza have seen activists burning American and Israeli flags in response to the news, while protesters in Bethlehem burned images of President Trump. Political analysts and Arab leaders have predicted a violent response to the announcement. Al Jazeera reports that Palestinian leaders have called for “three days of rage” in response to the US President’s decision.
Trump is said to have contacted the leaders of Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt to inform them of his decision. While each respective leader issued warnings to the US President, Turkish President Erdogan went so far as to publically state that if the US embassy is moved to Jerusalem, Turkey may suspend diplomatic relations with Israel. Erdogan met with King Abdullah of Jordan earlier today to discuss the move. Erdogan insisted that the status of Jerusalem is protected by the UN and the embassy move would serve only to empower terrorist organizations.
Inflammatory language is, unsurprisingly, coming from Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted in response:
It is out of despair & debility that they want to declare #AlQuds as capital of the Zionist regime… Victory belongs to Islamic Ummah. Palestine will be free, Palestinian nation will achieve victory.
The embassy move may alienate the US in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. While the Trump administration would like to serve as a peace broker between the two parties, it’s likely that Palestine will now reject America’s role. Al Jazeera quotes Hamas leader Ismail Haniya as saying:
This decision is an uncalculated gamble that will know no limit to the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim reaction… This decision means the official announcement of the end of the peace process.
The move could also serve to isolate the US from other allies in the region. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, reportedly warned President Trump of potential “negative consequences.”
Palestinian officials have asserted that they will challenge the move at the UN, claiming that it violates international law. The Trump administration has taken on a borderline antagonistic relationship with the UN, often related to the UN’s treatment of Israel. Recently, the US removed itself from the UN’s global compact on migration, saying Americans should choose their own migration policy. In October, the US also pulled out of Unesco, the cultural heritage branch of the UN, pointing towards Unesco’s “continuing anti-Israel bias.”
The Arab League, comprising of representatives from 22 Muslim majority countries in Africa and the Middle East, plans on hosting an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the potential Jerusalem embassy.