Should Christians Support Moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem?

(Photo: Reuters)An Israeli flag flies high in Tel Aviv, December 28, 2010.

Donald Trump's campaign manager is saying this week that a "very big priority" for the incoming president is to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, citing Jewish-American and evangelical support. But not everyone is so enthused with the idea.

In a Monday radio interview with conservative host Hugh Hewitt, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said that the incoming president has "made it very clear during the campaign, and as president-elect," that he would indeed relocate the U.S. embassy, according to the Times of Israel Sunday. Conway also told Hewitt that many Jewish-Americans prefer this and that "evangelical Christians always have Israel at the top of their list when you ask what's most important to them."

Yet much larger issues remain beyond simply transferring America's diplomatic headquarters there from one Israeli city to arguably the most disputed piece of land on the planet.

The Christian Post asked Robert Nicholson, executive director of the New York City-based Philos Project, a nonprofit organization working to revive an intellectually rigorous Christian approach to foreign policy, how Christians should engage this thoughtfully. 

"Insofar as we are building a real partnership between the United States and Israel, it makes perfect sense that we would respect the statements and wishes of the Israelis themselves," Nicholson said in a Tuesday phone interview, adding that in the minds of many Israelis and Americans, Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

"Yet for all intents and purposes moving the embassy will not actually change much on the ground. There's an idea that we could inflame the Islamic world, but I actually don't think that is so much of a concern. If anything it is more symbolic to move the embassy," he continued.

"The perception on the ground if you are a Palestinian is that the U.S. is overwhelmingly siding with Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so seeing the U.S. move its embassy is par for the course."

Conway's remarks are but the latest amid speculations as to whether the embassy relocation will actually take place since previous presidential candidates have said they would move it when they were running but never did once elected. Some argue that this year is different in that Republicans included language in the platform at their national convention in Cleveland explicitly calling for the embassy to be relocated, the first time ever a major party has done so.

In 1995 Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act which unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and required that the American embassy move there by May 1999. The legislation also granted the U.S. President the power to delay the move for six months and Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have all done so over the years because of security reasons.

As noted in Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Nov. 13, Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said that if Trump does move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, "Palestinians would 'make life miserable' for the United States at the United Nations."

But whether or not Trump will advocate for a Palestinian state, often called the two-state solution, or position for some kind of "one-state" option, "which would shake up the whole paradigm," is what most people on the ground in Israel are asking, Nicholson said.

Meanwhile, J Street, a liberal Jewish advocacy group that is an ardent proponent of the two-state solution, continues to assert that the embassy relocation is unwise and portends many dangers.

Writing yesterday on their website, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami called Jerusalem a "powder keg."

"Even minor changes of the status quo in fact or law have immense symbolic impact and carry the potential to spark violence," he said.

"A decision to move the United States embassy — with its implication that the US recognizes Israel's annexation of Jerusalem — could well spark unrest and violence not only in Jerusalem but across the Arab and Muslim worlds."

"All but the most reckless of American policy makers easily grasp the dangers of making this symbolic and inflammatory move," Ben-Ami said.

CP reached out to J Street for further comment but calls were not returned.

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