Wednesday, December 06, 2017

On his next visit will the Saudis give him another sword dance?

During the Clinton administration, Congress passed a law requiring the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The law gives the President the right to waive its provisions and delay the move for six months if the President certifies that it is the U.S.'s interest for the delay. Although that Act passed in 1995, the move hasn't happened yet because every six months the president has used the waiver provision. That has been the pattern for twenty two years. Clinton, Bush, and Obama all decided a delay was in the best interest of the United States, as did President Trump when the waiver last came up in the Summer.

The Christian right and hyper-Zionists in the U.S. really want the U.S. to move its Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem. They want it so much, they think it is worth the backlash it will cause among Palestinians, Arab and Muslim allies, and, for that matter, allies outside the Muslim world. Even if you buy all that and think the benefit of moving the embassy is worth the cost, isn't this the worst of both worlds?
President Trump on Wednesday plans to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and setting in motion a plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested Holy City.
The process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem will take several years, they noted. As a result, the president plans to sign a national security waiver that allows the administration to keep it in Tel Aviv for an additional six months.
So Trump is announcing the move will happen, thus triggering all the bad consequences of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, but then he is waiving the move anyway. Isn't that paying the costs without getting any benefit?

The Trump Administration justifies its waiver by noting that moving the embassy poses logistical issues and can't be done immediately.1 But couldn't they quietly work on those logistical issues and not announce the move until they were ready to do it? If you are going to take the backlash, you might as well pull that band aid off all at once. This way they are just prolonging the process, which gives even more time for bad responses to brew.

(To be clear: I think the move is a major mistake and I see no benefit at all to having the embassy in Jerusalem before the final status of that city is decided between the parties. My point is even if I did think there was some value to moving the embassy to Jerusalem, I would not want the U.S. to do it this way)

1-I'm not sure how much that is true. The U.S. maintains a consulate in Jerusalem, I have seen it. Can they just move the ambassador's office from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? My understanding is that would automatically downgrading the Tel Aviv office to a consulate and making the Jerusalem office an embassy? Sure, you have to change the signs, but how long would that take?)