By Susan M. Michael/JNS.org
Well, it is that time of year again. No, not Hanukkah or Christmas, but the Jerusalem Embassy Act waiver deadline! It comes around every six months and was a rather quiet affair—until the presidency of Donald Trump.
In 1995, a majority in Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, recognizing that city as the capital of Israel and calling for the U.S. embassy to be moved there from Tel Aviv. However, the legislation included a security waiver that every president has so far used to delay the move, citing national security concerns or possible implications for peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. The next deadline for the waiver is Dec. 4.
Christian leaders have made it clear to the White House that this issue is important to them, beginning with a petition during the 2016 presidential campaign that 650 Christian leaders, representing some 60 million evangelical Christians, signed. They asked the candidates to adopt five guiding principles in relation to Israel. One of those principles was the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the relocation of the U.S. embassy there. Then-candidate Trump agreed to all five principles and announced that if elected, he would move the embassy to Jerusalem.
When the first waiver deadline of his presidency was approaching in May, a letter signed by 60 major Christian leaders reminded Trump of that promise, and urged him not to sign the waiver and to proceed with moving the embassy. The president, however, signed the waiver. This week is the second waiver deadline of his presidency, and Christian leaders are once again reminding him of his campaign commitment.
There are several issues at stake in this ongoing saga. One is the fact that U.S. law has not been fully implemented for a period of some 22 years. Some members of Congress who are not happy with this held hearings on Nov. 8 to press the White House to proceed with moving the embassy.
While Trump has said “it is not a matter of if, but when,” many feel a grave concern that if the embassy move does not happen now, it may never happen. Trump’s presidency has opened a door of opportunity in the Middle East that no other U.S. administration has been able to open. He has tremendous leverage in the region, so he should take advantage of this fleeting moment in history and announce the move of the embassy.
Why wait for a peace agreement that has eluded us for 25 years and may continue to do so for decades to come? The only way there will be real peace between the Palestinians and Israel is by requiring the Palestinian Authority to stop inciting violence and to prepare its people for peace with proper education in schools, universities, mosques and the media. It will take several decades to raise up a new generation prepared for democracy and peace.
In the meantime, U.S. foreign policy should not be decided by those who threaten and carry out violence, but by the American government. We must strengthen our bonds with the one true democracy in the Middle East, a country and people who share our values. Recognizing their capital is the right thing to do for our greatest ally in the region. And there is no more significant time to do so than during this year of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
For me, a Christian leader, this issue is also personal. Jerusalem is a significant city in the Christian faith with many historical sites and great spiritual meaning. Only a free and democratic Israel can be trusted to protect Jerusalem for all peoples of faith.
The Israeli government has already demonstrated this and has continuously beautified Jerusalem, safeguarded biblical and archeological sites, and allowed freedom of religion for Christians and Muslims as well as freedom of access to our holy sites and places of worship.
The reason hundreds of Christian leaders have lobbied the White House on this issue is because they want to ensure continued Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, including our revered Mount of Olives, the Old City, the Temple Mount and all of biblical Jerusalem. This is why we are asking the president to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and never-to-be-divided-again capital of Israel and to move the U.S. embassy there. Mr. President, please do not sign the waiver again. Move that embassy!