Israel’s ambassador to the United States has called on Congress to "finally" and "very soon" move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, drawing praise from those who have pushed the sensitive issue for years on Capitol Hill.
Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer made the call last week on Capitol Hill during an event marking Jerusalem Day, when the city was unified by Israel.
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Dermer’s public call for Congress to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is relatively unprecedented for a high level Israeli official and underscores the political controversy over the Obama administration’s refusal to formally acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Lawmakers have for years tried to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from its location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, successive administrations have been reluctant to formalize the move, with the Obama administration going so far as to deny that Jerusalem is even in Israel.
Dermer told U.S. lawmakers in attendance at the May 29 event organized by the Israel Allies Foundation that it is "finally" time for the United States to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s "undivided" capital and to relocate the U.S. embassy there.
"Who knows, maybe one day very soon you will decide to move your embassy, finally, to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem," Dermer said, according to video of his remarks obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "In doing so you will not undermine the prospects for peace, you will strengthen the chances for peace because for peace to hold in our region it has to be based on truth."
While Obama administration officials have argued that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that needs to be decided in peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, Dermer maintained that the issue is about acknowledging "the connection of the Jewish people to the Jewish land."
"The decision in the United States, the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, would be a statement in favor of truth and if we have that type of truth, if we make clear to the world the connection of the Jewish people to the Jewish land, the connection of the Jewish people to its capital in Jerusalem, we will be laying a very, very strong, powerful cornerstone for peace," Dermer said.
"We all want to see peace happen," he continued. "The best way we can do that is by beginning to speak the truth, by defending Jerusalem and defending the eternal connection that we have to our ancient capital."
Willem Griffioen, the executive director of the Israel Allies Foundation, called Dermer’s comments "historic."
"It was a historic occasion for Ambassador Dermer to come to Capitol Hill and call on Congress and the U.S. government to move the American Embassy," Griffioen told the Free Beacon. "I very much second what the ambassador said when he emphasized that for the U.S. to move it's embassy to Jerusalem would not hinder peace but would strengthen the chances for peace as peace must be rooted in truth."
Dermer’s public call to move the embassy takes direct aim at the Obama administration’s policy on the issue. The White House on Monday reissued an executive waiver to skirt the law and ensure that the embassy is not relocated.
Despite multiple U.S. laws effectively labeling Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and mandating the embassy be moved, the Obama administration has made it a policy to deny that the ancient city is Israeli territory.
State Department releases have dubbed Jerusalem as its own entity and labeled Israel separately.
Former State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland went on record in 2012 to state that the administration considers Jerusalem a topic for peace talks.
"With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it’s a permanent-status issue," she told reporters in 2012 after the State Department came under fire for altering communications that labeled Jerusalem and Israel as separate entities. "It’s got to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties."
Democrats additionally came under fire in 2012 when party leaders removed language from the Democratic National Committee’s platform acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Lawmakers at last week’s event—including Reps. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.), Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), and Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.)—reiterated their support for moving the embassy as well.
"I look forward to visiting with you in the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem," Sherman told the audience, which included members of Israel’s Knesset and officials from the embassy.
Dermer maintained in his remarks that Jerusalem should not be made into a politically divisive issue.
"Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Jewish people," he said, adding that Jerusalem will never again be divided. "It is the center of our national life and the center of our religious life and a divided Jerusalem means that your heart is torn."