“Sinterklaasdag” (December 6, St. Nicholas Day) presents are neither a Jewish nor an American tradition, but today US President Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that he is instructing the State Department to start moving the embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.
Predictably, doomsayers and useful idiots of the Caliphate are claiming the world will end—while in fact [sarcasm] this moves clearly proves collusion between Trump and the Russians, since Russia recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital six months ago.[/sarcasm]
But jokes aside, what does this move change? In practice, less than you might think.
(a) The US already has a pretty large diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, with at least four locations that I can think of: a consular office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem; another on Agron Street in West Jerusalem (near the Great Synagogue); a third in the Arnona neighborhood, in what used to be “no man’s land” between the 1949 armistice and the 1967 Six-Day War; and an America House next to the YMCA. [State reportedly also owns a plot of land in the Talpiot neighborhood, which could be a potential embassy site.]
(b) The initial decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem was taken 22 years ago by Congress, in the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was approved on October 24, 1995 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities of 374–37 in the House and 93–5 in the Senate. (Roll call vote 734, Roll call vote 496,) Then-President Clinton refused to sign the Act — which was an embarrassment for him as well as for the Rabin-Peres gov’t in Israel at the time — but with a veto-proof majority, it passed into law anyway on November 8, 1995.
According to the terms of the act, if the embassy had not been moved by a May 31, 1999 deadline, the State Department would see its construction and upkeep budget for overseas missions cut by 50%. The Act did leave one loophole: the President may sign a six-month waiver, renewable indefinitely, for the sake of national security interest. Clinton, Bush 43, 0bama, and Trump all have done so, Trump just once when the previous waiver expired.
Apparently, he will sign again in order to prevent State getting partially defunded, but he has given instructions to start the process of moving the embassy. Fox reports that “some 1,000 employees” will need to be moved: the mind wonders whether this was a blooper on Fox’s part, or whether the US truly needs such a massive mission in a relatively small country—any halfway competent spy novelist will of course nod in recognition.
(c) The Jerusalem consulate already operates at near-parity with the consular section of the Embassy in Tel-Aviv: certain consular services, for instance (such as those related to Social Security) have been centralized in Jerusalem, while certain others (such as visas) are only available in Tel-Aviv. (The US also maintains a smaller consular presence in Haifa, while some countries maintain consulates in smaller cities — e.g. France in Ashdod and Netanya, with their sizable French-Jewish communities.)
In short: while Presidential recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (rather than Israel’s economic nerve center Tel-Aviv) is of great symbolic value for friend and foe alike, the practical implications on the ground are quite limited. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat quipped that all the Americans needed to do is clear an office at the Consulate where the ambassador could sit; in practice, ambassadors don’t move alone, and the migration is likely to take years.
UPDATE: in the wake of Trump’s announcement, the Czech Republic followed suit
And here, at the website of the Mann/Shinar architectural bureau, are some architectural renderings of the Arnona ‘annex’ to the Consulate in Jerusalem.
Some little ‘annex’. Commissioned in 2003, during Bush 43’s first term.
UPDATE 2: Six months ago, Northwestern U. international law professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote in a prescient Wall Street Journal op-ed:
If Mr. Trump nonetheless signs the waiver, he could do two things to maintain his credibility in the peace process. First, formally recognize Jerusalem—the whole city—as the capital of Israel, and reflect that status in official documents. Second, make clear that unless the Palestinians get serious about peace within six months, his first waiver will be his last. He should set concrete benchmarks for the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment to negotiations. These would include ending their campaign against Israel in international organizations and cutting off payments to terrorists and their relatives.