Longtime Israeli diplomat Dore Gold testified Wednesday that the long-promised move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would reinforce the allies' shared values of pluralism and mutual respect, pointing to Israel's protection of the city's holy sites and the ability of believers to access them.
"Israel is taking care of the holy sites. It has been taking care of the holy sites and will continue to take care of them," he said. "And if you don't have a responsible power to protect the holy sites, you are setting up a recipe for the next regional conflict."
Gold's testimony came during a House Oversight subcommittee hearing on the longtime goal of moving the embassy to the Israeli capital of Jerusalem.
President Donald Trump signed a waiver in June delaying his campaign promise by at least six months to move the embassy, citing a desire to maximize the opportunity of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Gold said he believed Trump would keep his word, quoting the White House statement on June 1: "The question is not if that move happens, but only when."
In his opening remarks, Gold said the debate over the embassy was a "subset" of a larger issue: the need for Western recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which he called vital for several reasons. Chief among them, he said, was the international interest in the protection of holy sites for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and ensuring access to them.
"Religious freedom and pluralism are core values which both our countries share," Gold said.
After its victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, when the Jewish state swiftly defeated Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, Israel took control of East Jerusalem and united the city, as West Jerusalem was already under Israeli domain after it won the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli conflict.
Gold asked the committee to consider what happened to Jerusalem and its holy sites when Jews were barred from the city, as opposed to the post-1967 era when Israel "unified Jerusalem and protected access for all peoples and faiths."
Jerusalem holds enormous significance to the world's three monotheistic religions, and as such it contains some of the most significant places of worship.
The Western Wall of the Temple Mount in the Old City is Judaism's holiest site, and many Christians revere the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where they believe Jesus Christ was crucified before being resurrected.
The Dome of the Rock, located atop the Temple Mount, is one of the most significant shrines in Islam.
"Let me stress to the extent the U.S. reinforces Israel's standing in Jerusalem, it is reinforcing core American and Western values of pluralism, peace and mutual respect, and it is reinforcing the position of the only international actor that will protect these sites," Gold said.
Later, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) asked Gold to expand on his argument about Israel's ability to be a stabilizing force for religious exercise, and whether Israel would be a positive influence for religious pluralism throughout the Middle East.
Gold asked the panel to watch thousands of Muslims pray near the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, to see Christians stream into the Holy Sepulchre at Christmas, or visit the Western Wall during Jewish high holidays.
"Jerusalem works," Gold said. "It operates well, and changing or expressing uncertainty of any kind about Israel's position only feeds radical elements who want to argue that the Jewish people have no connection with Jerusalem."