President Donald Trump signed an order last Thursday to keep the American Embassy in Tel Aviv—a decision that contradicts the president’s repeated campaign promises to move the embassy to Jerusalem. In a White House statement, the Trump administration said the decision served to increase the chances of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
After Congress passed a law in 1995 to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the sitting president must sign a waiver every six months to stall the process. Trump’s order follows those of Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama—all of whom signed the same waiver every six months during their time in office.
Moment speaks with Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, about Trump’s decision.
What does Trump’s decision not to move the American embassy mean to you?
I know many of the people around President Trump. I sincerely believe he will move the embassy before the end of his term, and sooner rather than later. I want that to be clear. I do believe that.
But by not moving it now, it simply sends a message that terrorist threats and terrorism have power. In other words, we cannot allow terrorist threats or terrorism to determine policy—but by not moving the embassy, terrorist threats and terrorism are determining the policy of whether we should be moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. It also reduces President Trump’s credibility on things that he says. People will be less likely to believe statements he makes since he has not fulfilled this pledge, which he made dozens of times during the campaign.
And maybe most importantly, this harms peace. It sends a message that Jerusalem is on the table, and that the Arabs can expect to get parts of the Jewish city of Jerusalem, when in fact it’s almost certain they will not. This really harms the chances for peace by making the Arabs believe that Jerusalem will be part of any deal. It also sends a very important message that no one is mentioning: It continues to propagate the myth that Jerusalem is holy to Muslims. This is one of the most extraordinary Orwellian myths of our day.
Can you talk a little bit about how moving the embassy this early would potentially pose a barrier to peace negotiations with the Palestinians?
As I said before, the U.S. hasn’t moved the embassy since Israel recaptured it in 1967. They didn’t move the embassy to western Jerusalem when Israel controlled it from 1948 to 1967, and there hasn’t been peace for 70 years. So honestly, the embassy has nothing to do with peace. The reason there’s no peace isn’t because of the embassy. The reason there’s no peace is that the Arabs refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state within any borders. Look, they’ve been offered a state five times. In 1937, in 1947, 2000, 2001 and 2008. They’ve been offered on virtually all of the land that they’re now claiming. They’ve turned it down every time and they’ve gone to war.
So they’ve never made a counter offer. Never. The issue of peace has nothing to do with statehood or the embassy. It has everything to do with the fact that they refuse to accept Israel within any borders whatsoever, no matter what the borders are. That’s why there’s no peace. The embassy has nothing to do with it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.