President Donald Trump declared on December 6, 2017, that the U.S. Department of State should begin a process of moving the United States embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.
Some call President Trump’s declaration a governmental decision. Regardless of how anyone parses his statement, President Trump has submitted waivers of the 1995 U.S. law that mandates moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This law, passed by Congress in 1995, is the “Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Implementation Act of 1995” (Public Law No: 104-45 *). During a waiver period, the State Department doesn’t have to present a progress report to Congress. Every six months since 1995 or so, Presidents have signed this waiver, thereby keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv. Waivers are based on protecting the national security interests of the United States, the State Department says.
President Trump’s declaration coincides with a belated report to Congress. (The report was due on December 4th. No one is sweating a forty-eight hour delay.)
For the near future (roughly two years from now), the U.S. State Department doesn’t anticipate any practical changes.
Essentially, President Trump’s statement is political posturing and even pandering. The U.S. has already conducted official business in Jerusalem in “de facto recognition of its status as the capital of Israel.”
Congress allocates funds to the State Department’s account “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad.” From these funds, the State Department already built a new campus for the Consular Section of its Consulate General of Jerusalem – an independent mission – which opened in its new location in 2009. The Consulate General itself was established in 1844.
Since 1912, the Consulate General and the home of the Consul General have been on Agron Street in western Jerusalem. The original structure was built in 1868 in the style of the German Temple Society.
After 1949, the U.S. State Department opened its Consular Section facing a segment of the fence that delineated a no man’s land from the 1949 Armistice Agreement with the Kingdom of Jordan. The State Department leased on the Jordanian side of the armistice fence near the Mandelbaum Gate between the two parts of the city (until 1967 when the city was reunited).
This location at 27 Shechem St. (27 Nablus St.) represents as much of a politically neutral place as possible. The Consular Section served the West Bank and Jordanian eastern Jerusalem until the new location was opened in 2009. In 2010, the Consulate General’s Consular Section then moved from this structure on Shechem St. (Nablus St.).
The State Department retains this location, though, adjacent to the Legacy Hotel and the eastern Jerusalem YMCA, for the America House.
We see that the U.S. State Department has an established bureaucracy in Jerusalem. Congressional laws and Presidential declarations exist for public consumption but not for State Department activities. Attentive politicos are aware of little change of government policy within bureaucracies.
See the press statement from Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, December 6, 2017. In his remarks, Tillerson says, “The State Department will immediately begin the process to implement this decision by starting the preparations to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” Keep in mind, though, that President Donald trump appointed Tillerson (with Congressional consent). Tillerson’s shelf life is unlikely to extend beyond the election of 2020 (my assessment).
So we are left with a U.S. State Department that has no intention even to look for land for a new embassy yet alone engage architects, engineers, or begin any other steps for construction. The president’s recent waiver is the same as the waiver six months before which is the same as the waiver six months before that, and so on.
The President’s party has made no difference. The makeup of Congress has made no difference. The sensitivities of the electorate have made no difference.
The United States will not be moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
* See a PDF version of this act as printed by the Public Law No: 104-45.
In the Senate, all but four Republicans voted for this bill. All but one Democrat voted for this bill. This Democrat simply did not vote at all.
The Congressional bill became Public Law No: 104-45 without being signed by President Bill Clinton and without being returned to Congress.
This blog entry is based on primary sources.