Following through with a public commitment during the presidential election, Donald Trump should be very cautious about moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, former ADL chief Abe Foxman suggested on Thursday.
“Our failure was not to get the American government to move its embassy 50-60 years ago, and every year that went by, it became more difficult because there was a higher price to pay,” Foxman told Jewish Insider in an interview on Thursday. “My view is, I would do this thing gradually. I would open a residence in Jerusalem for the Ambassador. I would have an official office in both places. I would move it gradually because, after 70 years of this horrific double standard, it may be too traumatic to do it immediately.”
Congress’s Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 said that the U.S. Embassy should be moved to Jerusalem by May 1999. But in June 1999, President Bill Clinton used his waiver authority to freeze building funds and delay the move of the embassy to Jerusalem for what he said were national security reasons. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have since issued waivers at six-month intervals.
At AIPAC’s annual conference in March, Trump promised to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “immediately,” and “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” In a position paper on Israel, released six days before the election, Trump’s advisors suggested that even before negotiations take place between the two sides, “the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”
In a letter sent to President-elect Trump this week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wrote, “In your term as President, I am confident that you will continue to empower our city by reaffirming its sovereignty and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.”
But in an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Trump’s senior foreign policy advisor, Walid Phares, indicated that Trump might not relocate the embassy immediately. “Many presidents of the United States have committed to do that and he said as well that he will do that but he will do it in consensus,” Phares said.
Phares later clarified his remarks. “Next administration to create consensus at home to move the embassy to Jerusalem,” he tweeted.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 24 percent of Americans support moving the embassy to Jerusalem, 20 percent disagree with this proposal, and 56 percent didn’t know enough about it to have an opinion.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner addressed the issue during a daily press briefing on Thursday. “Since Israel’s founding, the administrations of both parties have maintained a consistent policy here and that is recognizing no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. And we remain committed to this long-standing policy,” he asserted. “Administrations since 1995 have consistently exercised a waiver because it’s been determined that it is in our national security interests to do so.
“I would think, as we consult with the incoming administration, we’ll certainly make sure they understand, which is all we can do, our rationale behind exercising that waiver,” he added.
Foxman explained that while previous presidents have also promised to move the embassy out of good faith, “when it came to a reality, it was too much of a risk of what the consequences may be, especially in such a radical Middle East as we live in today where any excuse could wind up in violence.”
Therefore, Foxman suggested, the Trump administration should “move the process gradually rather than as a dramatic act.”