Last week, I participated in a discussion meeting CFI (Cornellians For Israel) held on U.S—Israel relationship in the Trump era. We discussed the legacy of the Obama administration, the actions of the Trump administration, and especially focused on the pros and cons of moving U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The following is a summary of our discussion.
The Obama administration’s legacy on Israel is rather contentious. On one hand, under President Obama, Israel received a record amount of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds. On the other hand, President Obama refused to use U.S.’s veto power to block UNSC Resolution 2334 which states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and has no legal validity (Since 1980, the U.S. has vetoed every settlement-related resolution at the U.N.).
Trump during his presidential campaign made dozens of pro-Israel promises which were warmly welcomed by his supporters. After he was elected, he has stuck to a firm pro-Israel and pro-Netanyahu administration stance. On 15th December 2016, Trump’s transition team announced its choice for U.S. Ambassador to Israel: David Friedman, who is both pro-settlement and pro-embassy relocation. Friedman’s nomination is supported by right-leaning groups like the ZOA and opposed by left-leaning groups like J Street. On 15th February 2017, Trump held a joint press conference with PM Benjamin Netanyahu at White House, during which he urged Netanyahu to temporarily hold back on settlements in the West Bank and stated that a two-state solution is not necessary for peace. PM Netanyahu said again that there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Trump.
In 1995, Congress passed “Jerusalem Embassy Act” requiring America to move Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Pres. Clinton, Bush, Obama had all cited national security concerns to avoid making this move. Would Trump keep his campaign promise? What are the pros and cons of the embassy relocation?
Pros: 1) The Embassy would be in the same city as the seat of government, like with every other embassy in every other country. 2) The timing is good: relations between Israel and Arab countries are closer than ever due to shared interests against the Islamic State and Iran. 3) It would be a great symbolic gesture of US support for Israel. 4) It would be a strong acknowledgment of the Jewish connection with Jerusalem.
Cons: 1) PLO has threatened to revoke recognition of Israel and cancel all agreements with Israel. 2) It might be a huge step backward for relations between Israel and Arab countries. 3) Jordanian security forces warn of violent uprising against the monarchy, and there might be violent uprising in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc. 4) It would be a symbolic recognition of Israel’s exclusive claim to Jerusalem, which contains Islam’s third holiest site (although some challenged how “holy” is the Temple Mount to Muslims historically or is it made “holy” for political reasons?).
Would Trump really move the embassy to Jerusalem? Since his inauguration, Trump has kept most of his campaign promises, and many Israelis and pro-Israel Americans certainly expect him to keep this embassy relocation promise. However, the potential danger of the relocation is much bigger than his other campaign promises. Would Trump take such a risk when his popularity among Americans is still contentious?
I personally am more in favor of the embassy relocation, because it is such an unprecedented opportunity: If not now, when? Nonetheless, I think Trump must take it slow and execute it well for the relocation to go smoothly without bloodshed. Whether Trump moves the embassy or not, I believe Trump should always keep the option on the table to put more pressures on the Palestinians, and on other Arab countries who would then put more pressures on the Palestinians. I would like to believe that Israel has entered a phase of opportunity in the era of not only Trump but also rising pro-Israel parties in Europe.