“Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem solidifies the long-standing alliance and friendship of two of the world’s foremost democracies. This decisive action defines the President’s relationship with Israel, attests to his belief that Israel rules justly and fairly within her borders and supports her democratic efforts in a difficult and unstable environment”
Since the early eighties, when the UN passed a resolution stating that Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as her “eternal and undivided capital” was null and void, American Jews and Christian sympathizers have lobbied the United States government to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As yet, no move has been made, largely due to the concern that such action would substantiate Israel’s claim to a city she currently controls and alienate the Palestinians from future peace negotiations. The situation in Israel is obviously politically fragile. As such, every country with an embassy in Israel, afraid to hurt its relationship with either side of the conflict, maintains it in Tel Aviv (El Salvador and Costa Rica were the last two to make the move from Jerusalem in 2006).
What all of these countries overlook is that in their attempt to avoid conflict, the very act of establishing an embassy in Tel Aviv is indeed “taking sides” and a political stance. The deed announces that they do not side with Israel; that they do not recognize Jerusalem as her capital. Perhaps the fear is not of being political but of favoring the Israelis.
The case for establishing the American embassy in Jerusalem is convincing. The city is the governmental center of Israel. Most countries headquarter all branches of their government in their capital; as, for example, the United States does in Washington D.C. Likewise, Israel has her legislative, judicial and executive branches in Jerusalem. In a similar vein, Jerusalem is the religious center of Israel. Although it is home to holy sites for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there is no doubt that, while the state may not be religious, it is Jewish. And globally, Jerusalem is the geographical focus of Judaism. Unlike in the United States, which has a strict policy of separating Church and State, no such divide exists in Israel. Around the world, Jews and others turn to Jerusalem for prayer and plan visits bearing the significance and weight of their lives’ dreams. While this may not be a convincing argument for the capital of countries like Croatia or Iceland, one must recognize its significance for a state founded by Jews as a safe haven for Jews.
Nevertheless, with all this supporting argument, something still holds nations back from establishing their embassies in Jerusalem. As regards the United States, the matter itself follows a clear and effortless logic. General global consensus holds Israel as a sovereign nation (it is recognized in the UN and other international bodies), and as provided explicitly in a Congressional bill passed in 1995 (and implicitly in many bills before), a sovereign nation may, under international law and custom, designate its own capital. Since December 1949, Jerusalem has been the Israeli-appointed capital of the State. Yet even while Congress recognizes Israel’s right to declare her own capital, and it follows that they should support an embassy move, it is not the place of Congress to make such decisions. It is the express right of the Executive branch of the government to establish or relocate American embassies in other countries, as foreign relations are delegated as Executive domain in the Constitution. Thus, past presidents and our current President are the reason for inaction as it is not a matter of Congressional jurisdiction.
Refreshingly, as America turns the page on perhaps the most popular, most global, Presidential election it has ever known, great opportunity lies before her people and her new leader. The issues facing President Obama are copious and do not demand recounting, as they have been considered, explored and perhaps beaten to exhaustion in the past year’s campaigning. There is no doubt that the fanfare surrounding the new appointee to this esteemed office will be great. But many of the President’s decisions will address those matters raised during the campaign. Any attempt to remedy long-standing problems in the economy, change the country’s tax structure or reorganize her healthcare system will not be definitively successful for many months or years.
However, the question of the Embassy in Israel provides a unique opportunity for the President to demonstrate his authority and make an early, lucid and definitive decision with unambiguous and immediate effects. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem solidifies the long-standing alliance and friendship of two of the world’s foremost democracies. This decisive action defines the President’s relationship with Israel, attests to his belief that Israel rules justly and fairly within her borders and supports her democratic efforts in a difficult and unstable environment. Why shouldn’t the rest of the world recognize Israel’s right to establish her own capital? Moreover, let America take the lead in making the right decision here, rather than tarry along with the rest of the world.
Would such a move be political in nature and send a message to the world? Certainly. Perhaps that message is precisely the one President Obama should send early in his term. A clear signal that America is ready to see the Mideast conflict resolved, Palestinian government working for the Palestinian people, with Israel, instead of using her people as weapons against Israel.
Failure to relocate the embassy may slide under the radar and be lost among the many other issues cluttering the President’s plate as he takes office. It may, alternatively, be seen as a slap across a great friend’s face, inaction when the times call for action, wavering on a question which demands certainty. It is a mistake to ignore such an obvious opportunity. This move is a perfect manifestation of the support a friend like Israel needs and an ally like her deserves.