Congress intensifies pressure on embassy move to Jerusalem

WASHINGTON — In overwhelming fashion, a clear majority of members of Congress on the House Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security called on President Donald Trump to swiftly move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Would you characterize this as a campaign promise that if the President failed to follow through on, it would be a major disappointment to the Jewish community?,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) asked former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. The House Freedom Caucus Chairman added, “As an evangelical, it’ll be a major disappointment to me, and I can tell you it is something that we brought up with the President directly.”

Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly vowed to relocate the embassy, similar to promises from past U.S. Presidents. However, on June 1, Trump signed a national security waiver keeping the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. In an October 8th interview with the Christian Trinity Broadcast Network, Trump explained, “I want to give that (the peace process) a shot before I even think about moving the Embassy to Jerusalem.”

A White House official told Jewish Insider on Wednesday, “The President has always made it very clear that it is a matter of when, not if. We have no news to share at this time.” According to the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act passed by Congress, December 1st is the next deadline when Trump must decide whether to sign an additional waiver or not.

Subcommittee Chairman Ron Desantis (R-FL) noted, “To this day, fifty years after the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem, the state of Israel, one of America’s strongest allies, is the only nation in the world in which the American government refuses to locate its Embassy to the host nation’s chosen capital.” The Florida lawmaker repeatedly mentioned Jerusalem’s “Occupation” during his opening statement, but clarified that he was referring to Jordan’s control of the holy city from 1948-1967.

.“Jerusalem is not very holy to Muslims,” Mort Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), declared in his testimony before the House panel. “In the holy Koran, Jerusalem is never mentioned. In the (Jewish) holy books, it’s mentioned 700 times. Jews face Jerusalem when they pray. Muslims face Mecca. It belies their claim of holy status.”

Breaking decorum, the packed committee hearing room erupted into cheers multiple times when witnesses urged transfering the embassy. In a jarring moment, Rep. Meadows referred to one of the invited witnesses, Michael Koplow, Policy Director of the Israel Policy forum, as the “skunk in the room” for being the only panelist who opposed the immediate relocation of the embassy.

Clarifying the importance of the embassy’s transfer, Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “You move the embassy, you create a box of realism for our neighbors. Israel is not going to give up Jerusalem. Somebody better digest that.”

While crowded on the Republican side of the committee, only two Democrats attended the hearing. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) cited the Jordanian monarch’s visit to Washington shortly after the January inauguration when he personally requested that Trump keep the diplomatic facility in Jerusalem. “Was President Trump wrong in accommodating the request of King Abdullah?” Welsch asked. Koplow emphasized the possible risks of violence due to the embassy transfer. “This could affect not only stability and order in Jerusalem, but also the safety and security of American embassies and diplomatic personnel around the world.”

Nonetheless, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) rejected such arguments. “This is real simple to me…. Let’s get this done as quickly as possible.”

Countering the well-worn talking point against the embassy move that the Israeli government actually opposes the transfer, Gold responded, “Our prime ministers have all sought, if asked, that the US Embassy be moved. Yitzhak Rabin, who was the father of the Oslo agreements in the 1990s spoke about Jerusalem remaining united under the sovereignty of Israel.”

In a related topic, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) urged for the reassessment of the location for the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, which serves as the primary diplomatic address for Palestinian residents. The Wisconsin lawmaker suggested, “Do you think it would introduce a dose of reality if we move that Embassy or representation, whatever you want to call it, to Ramallah?”

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