President Donald J. Trump made history on December 6, 2017 by announcing the United States was officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The president also directed the State Department to begin preparations to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Christian leaders had made it clear to the White House that this issue was important to them, beginning with a petition during the 2016 presidential campaign that 650 Christian leaders, representing some 60 million evangelical Christians, signed. The American Christian Leaders for Israel (ACLI) petition asked the candidates to adopt five guiding principles in relation to Israel.
One of those principles was the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to relocate the US Embassy there. After the election and prior to each waiver deadline, follow-up letters from these leaders reminded the president of his campaign promise. A hearty thank you was issued after his December 2017 announcement demonstrating the importance of Jerusalem to American Christians. There are a number of reasons for this.
Implementing US Law
It was in 1995 that a majority in Congress passed The Jerusalem Embassy Act recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and calling for the US embassy to be moved there. However, the Act included a security waiver which every president since had used to delay the move, citing national security concerns or possible impacts on peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
US law had therefore not been fully implemented for a period of some 22 years. Some in Congress were not happy with this and held hearings in November 2017 to pressure the White House to proceed with moving the embassy. The president agreed that it was time to implement the 1995 law.
An Opportune Moment
Many experts believed the negative reaction to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be much less violent than in previous years, because the presidency of Donald Trump had opened a door of opportunity in the Middle East that no previous president had achieved. He had tremendous leverage in a region that was now aligning with Israel against Iran. The Palestinian issue paled in comparison to the threat of Iran to the rest of the Middle East.
Voices opposed to the announcement claimed it would kill any chance of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. However, a peace agreement had not come about after 25 years of multiple attempts. The only way there could be real peace between the Palestinians and Israel was by requiring the Palestinian Authority to stop inciting violence and to prepare its people for peace with proper education in schools, universities, mosques, and the media. It would take several decades to raise up a new generation prepared for democracy and peace.
In the meantime, US foreign policy should not be decided by those who threaten and carry out violence, but by the US government. Trump’s announcement sent a strong message to the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table before they lost even more leverage. Time will tell, but Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may have actually increased the possibility of peace talks.
Recognizing a True Ally
Israel is the only country in the world where the United States refused to place their embassy in the capital city. Yet, they are the only true democracy in the Middle East, a country and people who share our values and who love America. Recognizing their capital was the right thing to do for our greatest ally in the region.
Rewarding Just Custodianship
The issue was also important to these Christian leaders on a more personal level. Jerusalem is a significant city in the Christian faith with many historical sites and great spiritual meaning. Only a free and democratic Israel could be trusted to protect Jerusalem for all peoples of faith. The Israeli government had demonstrated its trustworthiness by safeguarding biblical and archeological sites, and allowing freedom of religion and freedom of access to all holy sites and places of worship. Christian leaders wanted to recognize and solidify Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, including the eastern part of the city which includes all of ancient biblical Jerusalem.
Through this bold and courageous declaration, President Trump has secured his place in history. Making this declaration in 2017—the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty in 1967—was especially timely.
The actual date on which the announcement occurred also had profound significance in Jewish history. It was already night in Israel when President Trump signed the proclamation, and on the Jewish calendar, the 19th of Kislev had begun. It was on the 19th of Kislev in 1949, David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of the Jewish state, wrote that the Israeli government had unanimously decided to make Jerusalem the capital.
Many Christians recognize the hand of God in all of this and will expect to see many blessings on the United States. In Genesis 12:3, God states about the Jewish people: “I will bless those who bless you and curse him who curses you.” On December 6, President Trump blessed the Jewish people by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and in so doing will now be a significant part in their history.
Susan M. Michael is the US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) and the American Christian Leaders for Israel (ACLI) network.