The State Department challenges Trump over moving an embassy
As published in the Washington Times
Hostility to Israel throws an obstacle in the path to Jerusalem
On Dec. 6 President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and instructed the State Department to begin planning the relocation of our embassy to Israel’s capital.
The next day, a State Department assistant secretary for Near East Affairs refused to clearly affirm that Jerusalem is in Israel. When pressed by reporters, he declared that there would be no change at this time in consular practice or passport issuance. Translation: “Jerusalem, Israel” will not appear on official U.S. documents, including passports and maps; the U.S. Consulate’s address will, as in the past, not read “Jerusalem, Israel,” and our government will continue to prevent Americans born in Jerusalem from listing Israel as their birth country.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted that it would take at least several years to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In reality, the embassy could be moved in several hours by changing the signage on the U.S. Consulate in West Jerusalem.
According to Reuters and the Associated Press, Mr. Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis vigorously argued against the embassy move, claiming that it would endanger the “peace process.” This is a red herring, since our 70-year refusal to recognize Israel’s capital and move our embassy to Jerusalem has not brought us any closer to peace.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that Mr. Tillerson, who was not at Mr. Trump’s side for the announcement, had “made his positions clear to the White House.”
This State Department stance raised outrage among some lawmakers. “The president is the commander in chief and America’s sole organ when it comes to conducting foreign policy,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ron DeSantis, Florida Republican. “Article II of the Constitution does not vest this authority in bureaucrats in the State Department.”
If the State Department is anything, it’s consistent when it comes to the Jewish state. Seventy years ago, it opposed the partition of Palestine and, after America formally endorsed partition, it attempted to prevent President Truman from recognizing the state of Israel.
In August 1947, the U.N. General Assembly (Resolution 181) recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall opposed this and advocated for a U.N. trusteeship with Jewish and Arab provinces, not states.
Ignoring State Department pressure, President Harry Truman announced U.S. support for partition. Marshall countered with an embargo on all arms shipments to the area despite knowing that the better-armed Arabs would attack Israel whenever the Jews declared independence.
President Truman, upset with Marshall’s resistance to partition, demanded to see the final draft of State Department remarks to the U.N. Marshall ignored the request, and the State Department recommended to the Security Council that the partition plan be suspended.
Israel declared its independence in May 1948 and Truman, furious with the “striped pants conspirators” in the State Department, recognized the state of Israel.
Marshall attempted to undermine his president’s authority over foreign policy. “There are thirty million Arabs on one side and about 600,000 Jews on the other,” Defense Secretary James Forrestal argued in support of Marshall. That misguided rationale is alive and well today.
In the years since Israel’s founding in 1948, the State Department has worked to sabotage any international support for Israel’s sovereign rights in Jerusalem.
A 1962 State Department memo to the Kennedy White House stated its policy of continuing opposition to Israel’s making Jerusalem its capital. It described pressuring every government with diplomatic ties to Israel to refrain from locating its embassy in Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Over the years, various presidents have taken issue with the State Department’s policy toward Israel’s capital, but no president until Mr. Trump seized control from the bureaucrats.
In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act recognizing Jerusalem as
Israel’s capital and requiring our embassy to move there. The 2016 Democratic and Republican party platforms both stated that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Six months ago, the Senate reconfirmed its support for the move. The U.S. State Department, however, as in the past, prefers the pretense that Israel has no capital.
Bowing to State Department pressure, Mr. Trump signed the waiver postponing the embassy move for at least another six months.
Seventy years have passed since Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence. Much has happened, including multiple Palestinian rejections of generous peace deals, but the State Department’s antipathy toward Israeli sovereignty remains the same. Now its staff must orchestrate the embassy move they have long opposed. It appears they will slow-walk the move, hoping that Mr. Trump’s successor will reverse the policy.
The State Department was originally nicknamed Foggy Bottom because it is located in a formerly vaporous swampy area of D.C. known by that name. “Draining the swamp” was a cornerstone of Mr. Trump’s campaign. It’s ironic that the embassy move is now in the hands of the swamp.