In mid-May, we reached the one-year anniversary of the United States opening its embassy in Jerusalem. Many Israelis and their friends worldwide found the occasion worth celebrating. US President Donald Trump certainly made an historic and courageous decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the American Embassy there last May 14, 2018. Indeed, Trump has pointed to the Embassy move as perhaps the biggest and proudest accomplishment of his first two years in office.
Yet the passing of this moment also raised questions as to why more embassies have not been relocated to the Israeli capital since then. What is holding back other national leaders who are friendly to the United States and Israel and who have repeatedly promised to do right by Jerusalem?
Certainly, there was early momentum created by the US Embassy opening. Yet so far, only Guatemala has fully followed the United States’ lead by officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving their embassy there. The out-going president of Paraguay also quickly made the move, but his successor just as promptly returned their embassy to Tel Aviv.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia each opened an office for cultural affairs in Jerusalem but did not give these offices diplomatic status. In contrast, Hungary has opened a trade office in Jerusalem and declared it to have diplomatic standing. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Romania’s top leaders have made contradictory statements on moving their embassy to Jerusalem.
After promising so much more, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recognized only west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and so far has merely announced plans to open a trade office there. But he just won reelection by a surprisingly solid margin and may now be ready to do more.
Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly promised to move his nation’s embassy to Jerusalem, but to date has only officially announced plans to open a trade office in the Israeli capital. Honduras also has announced plans to open a trade office there. Lastly, the leaders of Georgia and the Philippines have both suggested they may move their national embassies to Jerusalem, but nothing official has happened yet.
So why have we not seen a larger parade of nations making their way up to the eternal city of Jerusalem?
1. Logistical Obstacles
First, there are a lot of expenses and logistical considerations in making such a move. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are only an hour apart (in good traffic). But moving an embassy involves more than finding a new office building; it means moving diplomats as well, and they require new homes and new schools for their families. Jerusalem is only now beginning to prepare for such an influx of diplomatic personnel.
2. Economic Concerns
Many nations expected concrete incentives and rewards for moving their embassies, in the form of increased American foreign aid and investment, or perhaps US assistance for acquiring Israeli technologies. The Trump administration even suggested as much. Recall that UN ambassador Nikki Haley said the Trump White House would be “taking names” on this issue and hinted that there would be both punishments and payouts based on how nations decided to react to the US president’s lead on Jerusalem. However, there is little to report yet in terms of real benefits flowing to the countries that have taken steps to recognize Jerusalem.
3. International Pressure
Meantime, those opposed to Trump’s push for wider recognition of Jerusalem have been working hard to undermine his efforts and punish those who seek to follow suit. Sometimes it has been through overt economic threats, which go well beyond the familiar use of Arab oil as a political weapon. For instance, Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Malaysia have threatened to end all beef purchases from Australia and Brazil if they move their embassies, which would cost these nations billions of US dollars in annual trade revenues. Other times, it has been by covert political pressure, such as the reports out of capitals in Eastern Europe that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has personally warned them against recognizing Jerusalem.
4. Waiting on US Elections
Finally, the biggest reason many nations are holding back on moving their embassies to Jerusalem may be that they are waiting to see if Trump will win a second term as president. At this point, the American presidential elections are already starting to heat up, and numerous democratic contenders are taking a much tougher stance on Israel than Trump. So why would a nation move to Jerusalem when the next American president might abandon the city, leaving them high-and-dry?
I anticipate Trump’s friendly policies towards Israel, and especially his stand on Jerusalem, will become a prominent issue in the upcoming American presidential elections. Israel’s evangelical Christian friends will be pressed to keep him in office. If they manage to do so, the momentum will return once more for the nations to ascend to Jerusalem.
- by David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman