By David Thornton
Recent comments by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicate that the embassy staff probably don’t need to start packing anytime soon.
Appearing on “Meet the Press,” Tillerson said that the president needs more time to consider the effects of the move. “Well, the president, I think rightly, has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all interested parties in the region, and understanding, in the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have,” Tillerson said.
“The president has recently expressed his view that he wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine,” Tillerson added. “And so, I think in large measure the president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process.”
Translated from diplomat-speak, Tillerson is saying that the president won’t move the embassy to Jerusalem if it has a negative effect on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. The peace process has been in development since the establishment of Israel as an independent nation in 1948. The peace process has been interrupted sporadically by wars of annihilation by Israel’s Arab neighbors and, more recently, suicide bombings, kidnappings and missile attacks.
The city of Jerusalem is claimed as holy by both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians. If Tillerson is saying that President Trump won’t move the embassy to Jerusalem if it hurts the peace process, then what Tillerson is really saying is that the embassy will never move to Jerusalem. Many of Israel’s Arab neighbors still reject Israel’s right to exist at all, much less to claim Jerusalem as its capitol.
While it is true that moving the embassy to Jerusalem could disrupt the region’s fragile peace, the same is true of many other actions. Sudden outbreaks of fighting could also be caused by a missile attack by Hamas, a kidnapping by Hezbollah, a crazed gunman or even an auto accident. Moving the embassy might bring war, but not moving the embassy won’t bring peace.
The Times of Israel notes that Congress passed a law in 1995 ordering the relocation of the embassy. The law allowed the president to sign a six-month waiver delaying the move. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all signed waivers delaying implementation of the law for the past 22 years.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to finally make the move. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” Trump told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The probably shouldn’t hold their breath.