Donald Trump reversed himself Thursday – again – and signed the Jerusalem Embassy Act waiver as all his predecessors have done every six months since the bill was originally passed during the Clinton administration.
The president had promised repeatedly during the 2016 campaign to move the embassy, telling a roaring crowd at the Israel lobby AIPAC, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
In 1995 Congress passed the law requiring that the US embassy be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but in a compromise enabled the president to delay the move every six months on national security grounds.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump all regularly renewed the waiver for fear of the potentially destabilizing effects on the region of moving the embassy.
The White House insisted Thursday that “the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”
It explained the president’s decision to defer the move for the foreseeable future as necessary to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Trump, a hardliner on Israel during the presidential campaign, has reportedly become enamored with the idea of striking the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians.
His would-be peace negotiators, presidential assistant Jason Greenblatt and adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are staunch supporters of Israel and its settlement enterprise, as is David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel.
Trump himself has sent mixed signals on whether he supports two states or one and has not indicated whether his vision of one state looks more like apartheid or upholds equal rights and voting rights for all.
“Embarrassing climb down”
Ethnonationalist advocates for Israel took exception to Trump signing the waiver and The New York Times speculated that major Republican funder and donor to anti-Palestinian causes Sheldon Adelson would be upset with the decision.
Democrats also expressed support for moving the embassy. Congressional Israel Allies Caucus co-chair, New York representative Eliot Engel, not only backed the move but implicitly embraced the idea of a Jerusalem ethnically cleansed of Palestinians. “The American embassy,” he said, “belongs in the Jewish capital of Jerusalem.”
Josh Ruebner, policy director with the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told The Electronic Intifada that Trump’s decision amounted to “an embarrassing climb down from his fervently expressed campaign pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem expeditiously.”
Republicans and Democrats alike have lent their support to 50 years of Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Ruebner pointed to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has joined forces with Tammy Baldwin, an ostensibly progressive Democrat, to back a resolution that not only demands the embassy be moved, “but celebrates a half-century of Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem while ignoring Israel’s violations of international law there and its separate-and-unequal regime which discriminates against Palestinian Jerusalemites.”
Myth of “united” Jerusalem
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have simply decided to look the other way as Palestinian rights are violated – or, in some cases, to minimize or explain away such violations as understandable.
“This Act is based on the myth of a united Jerusalem, but the actual Jerusalem could not be more divided, physically, economically, socially and politically,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, told The Electronic Intifada, noting that Palestinians in the city face systematic Israeli violence and discrimination.
This includes denial of their residency rights, grossly unfair distribution of resources, home demolitions, forced displacement and property seizure by Jewish settlers, collective punishment and other measures by an Israel determined to ensure that Jews hold a majority.
In contrast to the zealous congressional support for Israel’s positions, the UN Security Council reaffirmed in December that all of Israel’s measures “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status” of the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal.
Astonishingly, Trump’s grand vision of succeeding where all other presidents have failed has led him to embrace a discredited “peace process” over explicit support for Israel’s theft and colonization of Palestinian land.
How long his “moderation” will last is anyone’s guess.
As with so much else in his presidency, the policy could be dramatically reversed at any juncture, the embassy moved and the peace process dismissed in favor of publicly embracing the supercharged settlement and colonization that Israel is carrying on with anyway.