Most American Jews would agree that that place for the U.S. Embassy in Israel should be Jerusalem. But the cheers of some to rumors, hints and pandering about a relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will do nothing to hasten what we hope is an eventual move. The rumor was delivered by Vice President Mike Pence. He announced at a Nov. 28 event marking the 70th anniversary of the U.N. vote to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states that President Trump is “actively considering” how to move the embassy. As he spoke, he was pandering to those Jews who would cheer at any nod in the direction of Jerusalem.
Pence’s move worked, as did further leaks and hints that even if he doesn’t move the embassy, Trump would supposedly recognize that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital in a statement this week.
On Wednesday, Trump offered that recognition, but as every president has done twice a year since 1995, he also signaled that he would sign a presidential waiver to not implement what Congress mandated in the form of law – that the U.S. Embassy should be relocated to Jerusalem. That means the embassy is still in Tel Aviv and will not move for at least several years.
Talk is cheap. As a candidate, Trump repeatedly promised to move the embassy. But a candidate for office can’t do much more than talk and promise. That changes when the candidate is elected and has the power to act and the bully pulpit from which to persuade. If all a president can do is, in the words of the vice president, “actively consider” something, those words are meaningless. Shame on those who would cheer such empty rhetoric.
Jerusalem is the central node in the weave of issues that need to be thrashed out in Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. The accepted wisdom is that if the United States moves its embassy before the issues are settled, it would undermine Arab confidence in America’s ability to be an honest broker and ignite Palestinian violence just as the Trump administration is rumored to be preparing a peace initiative. That may or may not be true, and were Trump to move the embassy — even if we may disagree on the timing — we would applaud. What we won’t do, however, is confuse talking about something for action on it.
We want our elected officials to understand our concerns and act on them. Neither Pence’s speech nor the president’s efforts to conduct foreign policy by rumor and pandering deserve the applause they received.
Those who whooped it up were cheering the sizzle, not the steak.