US security subcomittee debates embassy move ahead of Dec. 1 deadline; majority in favor

Whether or not the time has come to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a subject of debate in Washington, with the majority of speakers in favor.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The House Oversight Subcommittee for National Security met on Wednesday to discuss the “benefits and challenges” of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The meeting was somewhat urgent, as every six months the president must sign a waiver delaying the relocation due to “national security interests” if he does not want the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to go into effect.

President Trump signed the waiver in June, and must decide by December 1 if he will sign it again, although he has promised numerous times that he would move the embassy.

The subcommittee called on five prominent speakers as witnesses; four of them supported the move; one did not. The pro-move speakers were John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN and currently president of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs; Eugene Kontorovich, professor of law at Northwestern University and head of the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum; and Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America. Dr. Michael Koplow, Policy Director of the Israel Policy Forum, urged caution.

‘Issue of Fairness’ Not Enough

According to Koplow, “the decision to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem cannot be judged solely on the issue of fairness…

“There are three primary national security considerations that favor keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv: preventing violence in Israel and the West Bank and the targeting of American diplomatic facilities, safeguarding the interests of Sunni Arab regional allies, and maintaining conditions for the Trump Administration or any future administrations to successfully advance an initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” he said.

Bolton gave many reasons that negated the long-held idea that relocation would adversely affect the Middle East peace process, negotiations over Jerusalem’s final status or US diplomatic relations with Arab countries. “In fact, by its honest recognition of reality, shifting the Embassy would have an overall positive impact for U.S. diplomatic efforts,” he stated.

Israel Protects Holy Site

Gold chose to emphasize history in saying why the move was so important. He described how religious sites in Jerusalem (and elsewhere) have been attacked by radical Islamists in the past as well as the present and then stressed how well Israel has protected all the sites under its control, assuring complete freedom of access to all faiths.

Klein explained how the waiver provision “was not intended to permit such repeated delays,” reminding the committee members of what then-Senator Dole said in the original Congressional hearings in 1995: “The President cannot lawfully invoke this waiver simply because he thinks it would be better not to move our Embassy to Jerusalem or simply because he thinks it would be better to move it at a later time. The waiver is designed to be read and interpreted narrowly. It was included to give the President limited flexibility — flexibility to ensure that this legislation will not harm U.S. national security interests in the event of an emergency or unforeseen change in circumstances.”

‘Physical Move’ Not Necessary

Kontorovich’s speech made perhaps the most surprising points. Among them was the fact that the law does not require a physical move at all, only to “officially open” an embassy, which can be done by simply upgrading the status of one of the existing consular facilities in the city. He also emphasized that there is no actual action needed to implement the Act. “The president must simply refrain from signing a waiver. Such an action need not be interpreted as any kind of statement about or change in U.S. policy, a fact that gives the Executive significant diplomatic cover. That is because U.S. policy is already established by the Act.”