Democrats usually jump at opportunities to counter Trump’s reckless and incendiary policies. That is, when the policies don’t have to do with the state of Israel.
The origins of the Jerusalem controversy date back to the 1947 UN General Assembly partition dividing Palestine into two states (under protest by the majority Palestinian population living there). Rather than giving Jerusalem either to Israel or Palestine, the UN recommended the city be corpus separatum, a “separated body,” administered by the United Nations. The UN’s plan was never implemented. Instead in 1948 Israel ended up with control of the Western half of the city and Jordan held East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In 1967, Israel “unified the city” by occupying the eastern half as well.
Despite numerous UN resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw, Israel has continued to hold the land and take concrete measures to annex it. These actions have included the building of the separation wall to include East Jerusalem within Israel’s boundaries, revoking the residency permits of Palestinian Jerusalemites, home demolitions and ongoing settlement growth. An 2017 bill in the Knesset even tried to formally annex 19 settlements surrounding Jerusalem into the Jerusalem municipality. Transportation Minister Israel Katz proudly declared the intent of the legislation as being to “ensure a Jewish majority in the united city and to expand its borders by adding 150,000 residents to the area of a greater Jerusalem.” Israeli anti-settlement group, Peace Now, succeeded in generating enough opposition that its authors watered it down from blatant annexation. The Prime Minister delayed the planned October 2017 vote on it due to lack of support and possible U.S. disapproval. However, if passed, it would still amount to de facto annexation of the 19 settlements.
From 1967 through today, all countries in the world, in accordance with the UN’s original plan, have refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. U.S. policy had been that the city’s status should be not be determined unilaterally but through negotiations. In 1995, the U.S. Congress reversed this position by passing the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandated the U.S. by moved from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem be recognized as the capital of Israel. Democratic president Bill Clinton refused to sign the act, saying it “could hinder the peace process” and used the presidential waiver included in the legislation to prevent the embassy move... Following Clinton, all US Presidents have signed waivers every six months, as required by the 1995 act, to keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv because they know the dangerous spark not doing so could ignite in an already volatile Middle East.
Trump’s announcement stating that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and directing the State Department to begin moving the embassy sparked protests across the world. In the West Bank and Gaza, where even nonviolent protests are met with military force, the first few days saw at least two Palestinians were killed almost 800 injured. Israeli airstrikes on Gaza that Friday, killed two and injured at least 25 people, including a six-month-old baby who was placed in critical condition. Whether the baby is still alive or has succumbed to his wounds is unknown.
One would think Democrats would be be jumping at the chance to hammer Trump for his reckless plans and their consequences, pitting us, once again, against the rest of the world and obliterating our credibility to be an honest broker. Instead, most have been, silent or, worse yet, taking credit themselves for Trump actions.
Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, responded to Trump’s actions with the affirmation that “Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and the location of the U.S. Embassy should reflect this fact.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer actually bragged after Trump’s announcement that he had helped convince Trump to follow through with his campaign promise to move the embassy. “Moving the embassy as soon as possible would appropriately commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification,” Schumer said in October 2017. According to international law, however, Jerusalem has spent the past 50 years being occupied, not unified.
Democratic whip Steny Hoyer agreed as well, saying that it was simply “a fact of history that cannot be denied.” Representative Engel of New York stated, “this decision is long overdue and helps correct a decades-long indignity.” Florida Representative Schultz said “We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” Representative Deutch, also from Florida, released a joint statement with Republican Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen saying, “There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection.” Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi said “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish homeland,” but added that “in the absence of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem now may needlessly spark mass protests, fuel tensions, and make it more difficult to reach a durable peace.”
Not all democrats have fallen into line behind Trump’s decision. The strongest reaction of opposition to Trump’s decision has come from the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan and Raúl M. Grijalva and Peace and Security Task Force Chair Barbara Lee. They released a joint statement. Trump’s decision fails “to take into consideration the serious and delicate nature of the situation,” said Rep. Grijalva. “President Trump’s decision to declare U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, before reaching a finalized peace deal or two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, hurts future agreements and will create unnecessary tensions and violence in the region,” said Rep. Pocan. “Make no mistake,” said Representative Lee. “This decision sabotages our diplomatic efforts and makes it even harder to achieve peace.” The statement, however, did not have the signatures of the other 72 members of the caucus.
In advance of the announcement Senator Bernie Sanders put out a statement saying, “There’s a reason why all past U.S. administrations have avoided making this move, and why leaders from all over the world, including a group of former Israeli ambassadors, have warned Trump against doing it: It would dramatically undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage the United States’ ability to broker that peace.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, penned a letter to in advance of Trump’s action. “I urge you to reject calls to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel…The future of Jerusalem is an issue that should be decided by Israel and the Palestinians, not unilaterally by the United States. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital-or relocating our embassy to Jerusalem-will spark violence and embolden extremists on both sides of this debate.”
Before the announcement, Senators Durbin, Booker and Blumenthal expressed concern that the move would cause violence and suggested that it shouldn’t take place yet. But none of them put out statements of condemnation afterwards. Senator Warren, addressing a Union for Reform Judaism convention in Boston, agreed Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, but said diplomacy, not a unilateral move by the US, should determine the final status of the city. Senator Brown merely suggested, “Let’s see what happens when he announces it.” Senator Murphy said he agreed with Trump that declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel would help the peace process, but stated “It needs to be done at the right time and in the right manner. I don’t see any peace process beginning any time soon, so I seriously question the wisdom of making the choice now.”
Democrats either applauding Trump, not speaking up or only making moderate statements of concern-pretty much everyone except Grijalva, Pocan, Lee, Sanders and Feinstein-are at odds with current American Jewish opinion. A September 2017 survey by the AJC Global Jewish Advocacy, found that 44 percent of American Jews don’t think the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem and 36 percent think it should be moved only “at a later date in conjunction with progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.” Only 16 percent responded that they supported the embassy to be moved regardless of other factors.
Why are democratic positions in congress so out of step with Jewish constituents when it comes to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem? One answer might be the power of the congressional lobby group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which spends upwards of $2 million annually lobbying for pro-Israel policies. AIPAC doesn’t give directly to candidates. Instead they connect candidates who support their positions on Israel with pro-Israel donors of enormous means.
The Democrats are even more out of step with global opinion. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, warned the announcement had “the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we are already living in.” The state of Jordan called it “nuts” and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it was a gift that “radicals and extremists will use to fan the language of hate. Even U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, despite its budding friendship with Israel, described it as an “unjustified and irresponsible step.”
Trump’s action has already begun to wreak havoc in the Middle East. We don’t know how far this will escalate, especially as progress continues to actually move the embassy. What we do know is that is the reckless actions of a man who has no regard for international law or conception of what is in the U.S. national interest must be repudiated. So where are the Democrats?