During the 1992 presidential campaign, candidate Bill Clinton criticized President George H. W. Bush for refusing to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to do so if he was elected president. In 1995, after Clinton became president, the United States Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, whereby the U. S. recognized Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and provided funds for the transfer of the U. S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Clinton, however, balked on moving the embassy. When George W. Bush ran for president against Clinton’s VP, Al Gore, he criticized Clinton for backing away from his promise and himself vowed to move the U. S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Bush II also balked, however. Barack Obama, known to be pretty hostile to Israel, never intended to move the U. S. embassy.
Now, Donald Trump has announced that the U. S. embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on Middle East issues. I’ve never held much hope of real peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and I’ve often wondered if it would be best for the U. S. to just stop bothering to try to negotiate peace between two factions so long hostile to each other and seemingly so disinterested in any effort to achieve real peace. Certainly, I believe the U. S. needs to remain a strong ally of Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East and as a nation perpetually under the threat of annihilation by its neighbors (who have tried to destroy Israel a number of times in the past and who still vow to do so). When it comes to providing for and protecting the freedom of its citizens, there’s no question that Israel stands head and shoulders above its Arab neighbor nations.
So, I’m not going to pretend to judge whether the U. S. moving our embassy to Jerusalem and, thereby, making good on the promise of 1995 will prove an utter disaster or a relatively benign change. The links below are to two articles, one that argues in favor of the move and another that argues against it. The third link is to the website of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem and includes a letter from Christian leaders in the Holy City strongly encouraging President Trump to keep the U. S. embassy in Tel Aviv, convinced that the move will result in increased violence and division.
Pope Francis has also weighed in on the matter. Addressing an audience gathered in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican yesterday, the Holy Father said, “I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days and, at the same time, I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant Resolutions of the United Nations. … Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace. I pray to the Lord that such identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
So, it seems that Christians in Jerusalem and the United Nations want Jerusalem to remain what it essentially is now: an international city with strong ties to both Arab and Jews and the Holy City to the three great monotheistic religions. The problem is, that status is unsatisfactory to both sides in the conflict. The Palestinians want Jerusalem to be the capital of any future Palestinian state. Israel insists that Jerusalem is already the capital of their sovereign state. Neither side, thus far, has been willing to budge on that matter, and there’s no reason to think they will in the future. If having Jerusalem as the capital of their respective states is essential to both sides, and both sides are unwilling to negotiate peace on any grounds that require their conceding this point, I don’t know on what grounds peace is possible. If moving the U. S. embassy, however, is going to cause instability and greater tensions in an already volatile situation, I’m not sure what advantage there is in doing so. It seems that Trump is trying to up the ante and force the Palestinians’ hand. But, the Palestinians have proven again and again that they are not a people conducive to compromise or responsive to pressure from America. Frankly, they’ve not proven to be a people terribly responsive to concessions granted by Israel in the past, either. It seems an all-or-nothing proposition for them. They seem content to continue the hostilities rather than concede much at all. I’m not sure what giving them yet another excuse to resort to violence will achieve.
As a Catholic in the United States, I certainly hope and pray that this move will not trigger an escalation of violence, especially violence that brings terror and hardship on innocents. Other than hope and pray, there’s really nothing more I can do.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.