Arab allies will acquiesce to the United States relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem if President Trump decides to make the move, former Ambassador John Bolton predicted Wednesday.
“There's a lot of rhetoric in public in diplomatic matter that suits the political needs of people who are uttering the words when behind the scenes you're hearing something different which is, 'we understand,’” Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told a House Oversight and Government Reform panel.
Congress voted to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1995, but every president since then has invoked a national security waiver to delay the transition. Trump promised to make the make the move during the presidential campaign, then followed his predecessors in order to allow his team to attempt to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff.
Trump’s allies are optimistic he’ll move the embassy eventually, particularly if the current round of talks fails.
“There are incremental steps that the Trump administration can take in the meantime,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who chaired the hearing, said Wednesday. “The State Department should allow Americans born in Jerusalem to list ‘Jerusalem, Israel" on their passports. The U.S. ambassador should make a point to conduct at least part of his work week from Jerusalem. And the American consulates in Jerusalem should report to the American embassy, not directly to the State Department.”
Opponents of the relocation fear that it would spark a wave of terrorism and create diplomatic standoffs with key Arab partners.
“We must proceed with caution,” warned Rep. Stephen Lynch, the top Democrat on the panel. “A decision unilaterally by the current admin to simply disregard the positions of other regional partners on this matter that have been expressed by the governments of Jordan, of Egypt and other Arab regional nation partners will prove ultimately detrimental to U.S., Israeli, and regional security interests in the near term.”
The final status of Jerusalem has been a key dispute in Israeli-Palestinian talks for decades, as the Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of a new state. DeSantis argued moving the embassy need not undermine those talks, particularly if it were placed in West Jerusalem.
“This can be as simple as changing the sign on one of the existing consulates,” he said.
DeSantis and Bolton agreed the emergence of Iran as a growing threat to Saudi Arabia and Jordan could give those Arab countries additional incentive to maintain a budding relationship with Israel and close cooperation with the United States
“I think it'll have no material effect at all, either on the broader geo-strategic issues in the Middle East or in the Middle East peace process involving Israel,” Bolton said.