Op-Ed

Will Trump renege on moving embassy to Jerusalem?

American presidents have declined to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
American presidents have declined to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. U.S. Department of State

Pundits who ridiculed candidate Donald had to eat their hats on Nov. 8. Hardly recovering from that blow, they moved to explaining that as president, he would surely drop his harsh campaign promises, because things you can see from the Oval Office you can’t see from the campaign trail.

Now they’ll have to eat their hats again. It seems that President Trump means business, and that his promises were not just hot air. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” he said in a speech on June 16, 2015, “and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order directing the construction of the promised wall. It is doubtful if Mexico will pay for it — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed it won’t. Still, Trump has shown that he’s serious.

On Dec. 7, 2015, in a rally in Charleston, South Carolina, candidate Trump called for “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Now, as president, he has moved to crack down on “sanctuary cities” that shelter undocumented immigrants.

And if I were Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, I would take seriously Trump’s threat that if “Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible carnage going on … I will send in the Feds!”

One campaign promise still seems to be up in the air: Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Candidate Trump received a standing ovation at the AIPAC conference on March, when he declared that “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

He has appointed David Friedman as the new ambassador to Israel. Friedman, a staunch supporter of Israel, said that he wanted to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region. He then said that he looks forward “to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

However, in interviews Trump gave to the London Times and the German newspaper Bild this month, he dodged the question of moving the embassy, saying vaguely, “We’ll see what happens.” Since then, rumors have been flying, and although Trump told a reporter of Israel newspaper Yisrael Hayom that, “Of course I remember what I said about Jerusalem,” and that “You know that I am not a person who breaks promises,” it remains to be seen if he will keep that promise.

Since Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, every president used his power to delay the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem, arguing that the future status of Jerusalem should be settled by negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, perhaps with the participation of Jordan, which is also attached to the holy city. Having said that, Trump, in his few days in office, has already shown his intention of breaking away from the conventions of his predecessors. Why, then, is he stalling on the Jerusalem issue?

My guess is that Donald Trump, the ultimate deal-maker, understands that rhetoric aside, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem now might spark violence in the region, diminish the willingness of the Palestinians to come to the negotiations table and destroy any chance of the United States to act as a useful broker, or, in Trump’s terms, a deal-maker.

When asked by his London Times and Bild interviewers why he picked his son-in-law Jared Kushner as his special envoy to the Middle East, Trump replied: “Oh, really … Ya know what, Jared is such a good kid and he’ll make a deal with Israel that no one else can. Ya know he’s a natural, he’s a great deal, he’s a natural — ya know what I was talking about, natural — he’s a natural deal-maker — everyone likes him.”

For everyone in this turbulent region to like his son-in-law and, better still, to enable him to make a deal, Trump will probably put moving the embassy on hold and include it in a comprehensive peace initiative.

Still, he has surprised us so many times before, that I won’t be surprised if I’m proven wrong.

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