The check really is in the mail this time.
Presidents Clinton, Bush #43, and even Obama gave lip service to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but President Trump is the first president to put the process in motion.
During a White House briefing Tuesday evening attended by this reporter, senior government officials confirmed that President Trump would announce on Wednesday (Dec. 6) that the United States will finally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. He will also direct the State Department to begin the process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv To Jerusalem.
The president plans to emphasize that his rationale for the decision is to recognize the reality on the ground as opposed to the ambiguity of U.S. policy since 1948. Jerusalem has been the seat of the Israeli government for the 69 years since its creation; it houses Israel's Supreme Court, Knesset, and Prime Minister.
The process of moving the embassy can take a few years. First a proper site must be found, followed by three to four years of design and building.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act Of 1995 requires the U.S Embassy to move to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999. Every six months thereafter the president is required to sign a waiver until a Jerusalem embassy opens its doors. Therefore, President Trump will sign and continue to sign the wavier. Failure to do so would result in massive cuts in State Department funding, including such things as security for embassies.
In recent days President Trump spoke to key players in Congress and on the international stage, and while some U.S. international partners may be objecting publicly, many of the reporters at the briefing understood that some partners — Saudi Arabia for example — may be saying something different in private.
The senior government officials said that not one leader Trump spoke to said that they would walk away from peace talks because of his planned announcement.
The officials also indicated that the ongoing peace talks have made some progress, but that they would not disclose details so as not to scuttle that progress.
The officials said the president would stress that the recognition of Jerusalem and the move of the embassy would not change the rest of the American policy regarding Jerusalem, including:
•Jerusalem’s borders will be determined by a negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.
•There must be no change to the status quo of the holy sites, including the Temple Mount.
•The U.S. supports Israel and the Palestinians in their quest for a two-state solution, and final borders of each state should be set through negotiation between the parties.
President Trump’s actions recognize the facts on the ground while leaving room for the Palestinians to try and get what they want in Jerusalem via negotiations.
Palestinian factions announced three days of rage from Wednesday to Friday in protest of the expected announcement. And there will likely be other protests. The officials explained that in anticipation, the U.S. has already beefed up security at embassies in the region and elsewhere.
On Tuesday afternoon, the American Consulate in Jerusalem issued this warning:
“With widespread calls for demonstrations beginning Dec. 6 in Jerusalem and the West Bank, U.S. government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho. Official travel by U.S. government employees in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank is permitted only to conduct essential travel and with additional security measures. U.S. citizens should avoid areas where crowds have gathered and where there is increased police and/or military presence. We recommend that U.S. citizens take into consideration these restrictions and the additional guidance contained in the Department of State’s travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza when making decisions regarding their travel.”
The change in policy regarding Jerusalem is encouraging. After almost seven decades President Trump is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, duplicating the announcement Russia made this past April. It is, however, only a first step. The move of the embassy is still only a promise.
I have always described a candidate’s promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as the political equivalent of telling a bill collector that the check is in the mail. With the president’s announcement, we can finally believe that the check indeed is in the mail. But we will have to wait a few years to see if the check clears — that is, if the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem opens for business.