Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Harms the US

President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and intent to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is sure to harm the United States. A product of decades of pressure by Israel and its US lobby, the move is an incremental step toward pressuring the US to confer legitimacy on all of Israel’s territorial acquisitions accomplished through war.

US presidents refrained from moving the embassy to Jerusalem because of commitments to UN Security Council Resolution 478, passed in 1980, which rejected Israel’s declaration that Jerusalem was its "complete and united capital" because East Jerusalem was territory captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, a war that Israel started. Parties to Resolution 478 committed to withdrawing diplomatic missions from the city. This created pressure on Israel to relinquish ill-gotten territory and negotiate peace. The US supported that goal since 1967 through the unanimous UN resolution 242, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories captured in 1967. The original 1947 UN partition plan called for Jerusalem to be "internationalized."

In the 1980s, Israel affinity organizations such as AIPAC and the ADL went into overdrive lobbying for a "move the embassy" law that would force the US to legitimate Israel’s claims on the city. As the Oslo peace process loomed in the 1990s aimed at negotiating "final status" issues such as Jerusalem, expulsed Palestinians’ right to return to their properties, and recognizing borders, the Israel lobby sought to preempt negotiations by passing the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, drafted by the Zionist Organization of America and AIPAC. The bill, like most Israel lobby legislation and legislative rules, was coercive. US State Department overseas construction was to be defunded until the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. No legitimate US-driven interests informed the creation or passage of the bill. Rather, it was yet another achievement of the $6 billion Israel lobby’s coordinated political campaign contribution network. That network now requires any serious candidate pledge their fealty to the Israel lobby’s program, even before running for office.

To avoid constitutional "separation of powers" issues, ZOA and AIPAC legal researchers inserted a presidential "waiver" provision. This allowed US presidents to waive the move by asserting every six months "US national security" demanded that the US embassy not be moved. Every president, until President Trump, faithfully signed the waiver every six months. Even though most campaigned promising to move the embassy, they realized that breaking U.N. resolutions would undermine rule of law and America’s international standing.

Israel and its US lobby want the US to further undermine international law, which the Trump proclamation clearly allows. The next step will be for the United States to declare that both West and East Jerusalem are the "unified capital" of Israel. Then, the US will be compelled to recognize Israeli claims on portions of the West Bank and the Golan heights as integral parts of Israel or Israeli-administered territories.

Israel lobby pundits fanned out across the airwaves claiming the move is a milestone on the "road to peace" while forecasting a "violent Arab response" with almost eager anticipation. Images of an "angry Arab street" help reinforce Israel’s hasbara that their rivals are inherently irrational, violent and impossible to deal with. This is the same public relations frame that informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation that the 9/11 attacks on the US would be "good for Israel." Israel will not pay for any fallout from the embassy proclamation. Under the recent $38 billion US aid package to Israel, the US is obligated to provide additional aid if Israel becomes involved in military conflicts with its neighbors. Having been coerced to advance yet another unwise Israeli policy, the US may also be forced to pay for any military fallout.

This is not the first time the US has violated international law (and US law) at Israel’s behest. In 1973 President Nixon secretly committed to Golda Meier that the US would violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by allowing Israel to secretly go nuclear. The US continues to formally suppress any information release or formal recognition of Israel’s nuclear status, while violating its own Arms Export Control Act restrictions on aid to non-NPT signatories. In the years since, the US has largely lost moral suasion as a champion of non-proliferation, even as Israel moved on to proposed device and delivery vehicle sales to apartheid South Africa and hydrogen bomb development. Israel constantly smuggles material, technology and know-how from the US without sanction. (PDF) Operatives who support nuclear technology smuggling, such as movie producer Arnon Milchan, roam free because the Israel lobby demands it.

Forcing the US to undermine its own interests at the behest of Israel was the sort of coercion senators and the Kennedy administration originally feared when they ordered AIPAC and ZOA, as entities of the American Zionist Council umbrella, to register as Israeli foreign agents in 1962. The Israel lobby refused, and the US Department of Justice never enforced the order. Awareness of the Israel lobby’s role in the Jerusalem proclamation and dangerous upcoming initiates, may ultimately have a positive impact. It will likely encourage larger numbers of Americans fed up with Israeli coercion of their politicians and agencies to organize to take back their government.

Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America.