Secretary of State Pompeo’s report that no further waivers are necessary in respect of the Jerusalem Embassy Act is a wonderful moment in these parlous times. It is a marker not only of principle but also of stick-to-it-ive-ness. And it puts paid to an account opened, so to speak, by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was at the peak of his power in the Senate.
That was in the mid-1990s. We were editing the Jewish Forward at the time, and the senator had asked if he could stop by. He was then chairman of the finance committee and we wanted to talk about — naturally — the gold standard. He, it turned out, had no more interest in the gold standard than the man in the moon. Instead, he thrust at us a copy of the State Department telephone directory.
Moynihan handed the book to us even before he sat down. “Here,” he said once a few colleagues were seated at a round table. “Let’s talk about this.” We were stumped. So he riffed through State’s phone book, stopping at Jerusalem. It wasn’t listed under Israel, he pointed out, or any other country. Alone among capital cities, it was listed under Jerusalem — as if it were a separate nation altogether.
As Moynihan warmed to the subject, we began to grasp — we’re notoriously slow, we concede — that he was telling us the Senate was ready to move on Jerusalem. He did sound some cautionary notes. Menachem Begin, he mentioned several times, had long ago warned that the question of Jerusalem cannot be settled in the United States Congress. It could, though, be pressed there.
So began the Washington end of the Battle of Jerusalem. Within two years, Congress had passed a law requiring our embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. There are a number of remarkable features about the law, but the most salient is that it was passed on a vote of 93 to seven in the Senate and 374 to 37 in the House. It is one of the true bipartisan laws to emerge in our bitterly partisan age.
Another salient feature is that the law was, at least in spirit, disobeyed. At the last minute, the Democrats inserted into the law a provision allowing the president to waive the requirement to move the embassy. That waiver could last six months. No one expected it would be waived indefinitely. Senator Schumer was predicting the embassy would be moved within a year.
In the event, it took a generation. Three presidents — Messrs. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama — defied the spirit and intent of the law over and over, renewing the waiver every six months. One of the original sponsors of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, Joe Biden, was eventually elected vice president. Yet even he failed to press the case for carrying out the law that he had helped write.
It wasn’t until President Trump acceded to power that a bipartisan policy, hammered out in Congress, was brought into reality. The result is that, as Secretary Pompeo put it this week, “no further Presidential waiver” is needed for the Jerusalem embassy. He noted that, in accordance with the law, not only has the embassy been moved to Jerusalem but also the residence of our ambassador to Israel.
We’re not suggesting any of this is the end of the story. It is, though, a chapter worth marking. Heretofore it has been State Department writ that Jerusalem should be reserved for the end of the so-called peace process. Too difficult to be addressed at the start. Our own view has been the opposite. Better for it to be dealt with at the start of the peace process.
Sure enough, one of the next things that could happen before long is a glimpse of the peace plan on which Jared Kushner has been the point person. There is some speculation that it will include a Palestinian Arab capital in the eastern part of the city. We suspect that’s going to be a hard sell, in America as well as Israel. Peace, however difficult, though, will an easier sell now that we have a president prepared to enforce the Jerusalem Embassy Act.
Image: Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.