The Trump administration is expected to announce Wednesday that it will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Although Congress voted in 1995 to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and declare it the capital, every president since then has invoked a national security waiver to prevent recognition.
President Donald Trump informed Israeli and Arab leaders of his plan on Tuesday, the New York Times reported. A slew of world powers warned the United States against making such a move this week. East Jerusalem is home to a large Palestinian population who lives under a harsher set of rules than the city’s Israeli residents, and it is widely believed that a two-state solution is impossible if Israel insists on controlling the entire city.
“It is essential no unilateral decisions are made that would change the historic status quo of Jerusalem as an occupied city whose fate needs to be determined in final status talks within an overall peace package,” a senior Jordanian diplomat told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The State Department also put out a formal warning to American citizens to avoid certain parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank as mass Palestinian demonstrations are expected. This mix of demonstrations and the inevitable Israeli crackdown have many fearing violence.
But while international diplomats are pressing the Trump administration to prevent recognition of Jerusalem, few from either side of the aisle in Congress are willing to speak about it, even though the vast majority of Democratic voters oppose the move.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a statement Tuesday that he is concerned by reports that the White House intends to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. “There’s a reason why all past U.S. administrations have avoided making this move, and why leaders from all over the world, including a group of former Israeli ambassadors, have warned Trump against doing it: It would dramatically undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage the United States’ ability to broker that peace,” Sanders wrote.
On Tuesday, The Intercept asked a bipartisan group of senators on Capital Hill about the Trump administration’s plan. Most either supported the move or did not directly respond to the question.
Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defended the Trump administration. “Well you know, it is true — the capital of Israel is Jerusalem,” he said. When asked about diplomats’ warnings that recognizing it as such may set off violence, he advised, “You’ve got to handle it the right way.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., also offered his support for the White House. When asked about concerns about ensuing violence, Shelby replied, “Can’t be much more violence than what’s already there.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also backed the move. “Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is long overdue,” he said, dismissing concerns about predictions of potential violence. “History has shown that radical Islamic terrorists need no provocation,” he said.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, took a wait-and-see approach. “Let’s see what happens when he announces it,” he told us in a terse response.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had few thoughts on the topic. “I’d like to hear some details,” he said.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., widely rumored to be the next head of the CIA, said, “No comment.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a top ally of pro-Israel donors and political organizations, also declined to comment.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said, “I haven’t had time to give it a lot of thought,” adding that he hopes no violence ensues as a result of the move.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., pointed out that he was one of the original senators who pushed Congress to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the 1990s. “Sooner or later, you have to make decisions around here. They’ve been talking about that through four administrations,” he said when asked if he was concerned about the expected violence.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., wasn’t concerned about expected violence. “Well, I assume they have worked that with Israelis and hopefully the region. My guess is there’s a lot of work that has gone in in advance of that move. That’s something that a lot of us have supported,” he said.
“You can’t be frozen by existential anxiety, let’s just put it that way,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said about the potential of violence. “There may be some problems, but I’m not sure if the problems are gonna be awful.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., dissented from her colleagues’ pro-Israel line. “I am certain that there will be a very bad reaction in Arab countries from across the Middle East,” she said. When asked if she would urge Trump to hold off, she replied, “I would.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also spoke out against the move, writing to Trump last week asking him not to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital at this time.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also seemed skeptical of the decision.
“It needs to be done at the right time and in the right manner,” he told Jewish Insider. “I don’t see any peace process beginning any time soon, so I seriously question the wisdom of making the choice now.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., cited a similar concern. “The timing is in the diplomacy of it. Does it cause more friction and more problems than what we need right now, or can we go ahead and put a timetable to it? I don’t think with all of the negotiations going on right now that we need to be in a situation that will make things a little bit more challenging,” he said to the same publication.