Congress Amps Up Pressure on Moving U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Hearing will pressure Trump admin to follow through on promise

U.S. Embassy building in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv / Getty Images
November 7, 2017

Congress is increasing pressure on the Trump administration to follow through with a now-stalled promise to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, according to lawmakers and multiple sources who told the Washington Free Beacon that move is long overdue and would help strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance after years of tension under the former Obama administration.

While President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail that one of his first acts in office would be to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Israel's capital city, he officially delayed the process in June, issuing a waiver to prevent the embassy from being relocated.

The move sparked anger in the pro-Israel community, segments of which touted Trump as a positive force for U.S.-Israel relations. Now it's back on the congressional docket ahead of a Dec. 1 deadline for Trump to either begin moving the embassy or delay it for another six months.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on National Security will take up the issue Wednesday during a hearing aimed at pressuring the Trump administration to make good on its promise, according to those familiar with the hearing.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), the committee's chairman, visited potential sites for the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem during a March visit, and told the Free Beacon on Tuesday that the ongoing refusal to relocate the embassy is damaging U.S.-Israel relations.

"Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is long overdue," DeSantis said. "It is absurd that Israel is the only nation in the world where our embassy is not located in the nation’s capital city. This is no way to treat an ally, much less one of our closest allies."

The Trump administration's decision to follow suit with past presidents and delay the embassy move must be reversed by the December deadline, DeSantis said. "It will send a powerful signal about American leadership when President Trump relocates the embassy to Jerusalem. It will also demonstrate that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's eternal and indivisible capital and will show hostile actors throughout the Middle East that Israel is here to stay."

Lawmakers will hear from a broad range of advocates on Tuesday as they continue to pursue efforts to push the Trump administration into moving the embassy, according to those familiar with the upcoming testimony.

The National Security Subcommittee has been active on embassy issues—DeSantis visited potential embassy sites in Jerusalem on an official visit in March.

Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, a vocal pro-Israel supporter, will join several others in advocating for the change.

Bolton's presence is particularly noteworthy due to his public criticism of the Trump administration on a range of issues, including the landmark nuclear deal with Iran, which Bolton has advocated killing.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador and high-level official for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also will appear at the hearing.

Other witnesses will include Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University; Morton Klein, the longtime director of the Zionist Organization of America; and Michael Koplow, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum.

The panelists are expected to lay out the ways in which the Trump administration could move forward with relocating the embassy, a process some argue would ignite greater tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, who also claim Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

While Congress passed a law in 1995 requiring the United States to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, every presidential administration has waived the law in order to preserve its role in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump, like other presidents, has argued since taking office that moving the embassy could collapse negotiations between the two parties and harm America's credibility as a mediator.

Pro-Israel supporters in Congress, however, do not buy this argument, and are becoming increasingly willing to call out the Trump administration over its refusal to follow through with its campaign promise to finally move the embassy.

"Israel is the only nation in the world where an American embassy is not located in its chosen capital city," said one senior congressional official working on the matter. "It is long past time that we rectify this error and locate our embassy in Jerusalem. It is our hope that this hearing and the witness testimony will highlight how moving the embassy will strengthen the U.S.-Israeli alliance and send a clear message of support for Israel."

"This may also be an opportunity to contrast harmful Obama administration policies towards Israel versus repairing of U.S.-Israel relationship under President Trump," the source said.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the issue.