In recent weeks, the Trump administration's decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has caused worldwide reaction.
First we’ve witnessed the predictable Palestinian protests against the move, as the embassy move is perceived as a rebuke of the Palestinian plans for Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Next was the overwhelming U.N. General Assembly vote for a resolution demanding a reversal of the American move. This included votes by even staunch allies of the U.S., like the United Kingdom and Canada.
Though controversial, the decision to move was the right one for a number of reasons.
First a bit of modern history to provide a moral justification of moving.
In 1947, the United Nations determined a partition plan for the Jews and Arab Palestinians in what is today Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Though the plan favored the Arab Palestinians with more and better land, Jewish leaders accepted the U.N. plan while Palestinians rejected it outright.
When Israel declared independence in 1948, Palestinians and allied Arab nations attacked Israel from all sides. At the conclusion of hostilities in 1949, Israel controlled the western half of Jerusalem, while Jordan controlled the eastern half, including the Old City of Jerusalem. It is critical to note that the Old City contains the holiest sites to Jews and Christians, and the third holiest site within Islam.
Since independence, Israel has claimed Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, though the Old City was under Arab control until the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War of 1967. Between 1949 and 1967, Jews were not allowed into the Old City to visit their holiest sites like the Western Wall, and synagogues were destroyed along with Jewish cemeteries. Christians had extremely limited access to Christian holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
By contrast, when Israel took control of the Old City, not only were Muslims guaranteed access to the Muslim holy sites of the Dome of the Rock and El Asqa Mosque, but given legal control of the Temple Mount. Since 1967, Israel has allowed religious freedom to all three major religions of Jerusalem and has continued to hold Jerusalem as the historic Jewish capital.
Jews have maintained a presence in Jerusalem since King David conquered the city and made it his capital more than 3,000 years ago.
Since that time, despite periods of exile for much of the Jewish population, Jews have lived in Jerusalem and it was always held to be the capital of a Jewish state.
Throughout the near-2,000 years of the diaspora brought by the Jewish revolt against Rome in 70 A.D., the yearly Jewish refrain has been "next year in Jerusalem" as the longing to return to the historic capital.
While the Islamic religion places all importance on the historic holy sites of Mecca and Medina, of which non-Muslims cannot visit on pain of death, Jerusalem is the sole holy city and root of Jewish identity.
In 1995, the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, in which America made clear that Jerusalem was considered the undisputed capital of Israel to America, and that the U.S. Embassy should be in Jerusalem.
For various political and security justifications, U.S. presidents from 1995 until 2017 hesitated to fulfill that congressional mandate. The decision by the Trump administration was actually a refusal to further stonewall the Jerusalem Embassy Act and hold to the will of the American people through Congress to put our embassy in Israel.
Israel is the ultimate U.S. ally in the Middle East, having stood firmly with the U.S. throughout the Cold War, during which time Arab neighbors allied with the Soviets at various times. Israel has stood as the beacon of freedom and pluralism, giving all equal rights to the millions of Arab Muslim citizens of Israel while Jews were expelled from neighboring Arab nations after 1949. Israel has unilaterally withdrawn from the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank in attempts to find peace in the interest of all, including the U.S.
Importantly for nations like the U.S. with Christian majorities, Christians have had unfettered access to the Old City and all Christian sites under Israeli administration. That contrasts with the period of Arab control of the Old City, which discriminated in favor of Islam to a high degree.
"America is great because America is good,” as Alec de Tocqueville reputedly said of the rising young nation in the 1830s. “If she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
In the case of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, we are showing our historic courage by standing up for the good guys. Interestingly, other nations like Guatemala are moving their embassies to Jerusalem. America is leading on this issue, and history will judge us well. It is both the right thing to do, and it is in our long-term best interest.