Opinion

Get Over It, Mr. Adelson: Jerusalem's U.S. Embassy Isn't Happening

Three reasons why relocation of the embassy would create a giant mess for all concerned and will probably never happen

Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation Sheldon Adelson looks out at the audience at the National Israeli-American Conference in Washington October 19, 2015.
GARY CAMERON/REUTERS

Sheldon Adelson is reportedly miffed at Donald Trump. The casino mogul, Republican mega-donor and pro-Israel evangelist is upset with Trump and refuses to donate anymore of his fortune toward supporting the president, Politico reported on Monday.

According to the report, which cites three people close to Adelson, one of the main donors to Trump’s presidential campaign, the Jewish tycoon is angry at the “chaos” in the Trump White House and is particularly irked by Trump’s failure to fulfill his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

I am sorry to spoil what already seems like a spoiled party, but if Adelson and Trump’s pro-settlement supporters are still holding on to hopes that the president is going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, they should know: It’s probably not going to happen.

To be frank, it’s easy to understand the disappointment of Adelson and the pro-settlements camp with Trump’s dilly-dallying. During the campaign and shortly thereafter, Trump and his aides repeatedly vowed that a relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — thus in effect recognizing the undivided city as Israel’s capital, a major shift in U.S. foreign policy — is imminent.

It’s true: Basically every other Republican presidential candidate (and Democrats like Bill Clinton) in the last 20 years has made the exact same promise, and declaring that Jerusalem will “remain undivided” is standard practice for presidential hopefuls, even for lily-livered two-staters like Barack Obama. Congress already passed a law ordering the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem nearly 22 years ago, but since then every president, Democrats and Republicans alike, have ignored it.

But Trump was going to be different. He was bold, fresh, an outsider to the Washington establishment who was going to shake up the system, including the decades-old two-state-for-two-peoples dogma. He was the first presidential nominee to have a campaign office in the West Bank. In general, his campaign was filled with so much pro-settlement pandering that following his election, the Israeli far-right went into a weeks-long frenzy, starting with Education Minister Naftali Bennett declaring “The era of the Palestinian state is over” and culminating with government approval for the first new settlement in decades.

Of course, within days of being inaugurated, Trump was already pouring cold water over any notion that he was going to revolutionize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warning Israel to curb settlement construction, and cautioning that moving the embassy is a “big, big decision” that he was “studying very long and hard.”

Three months of President Trump have gone by, and no announcement on moving the embassy has been made yet. Last month, Vice President Mike Pence told AIPAC that, “After decades of simply talking about it, the president of the United States is giving serious consideration” to the idea of moving the embassy. How is “serious consideration” different from “talking about it”? Presumably, it involves a lot more silent reflection.

Pence’s pandering aside, Trump is likely not going to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — not soon, and probably not ever. Why? For three main reasons.

One, it is a terrible idea, which is why every other president has not done it. True, Trump is a big fan of bad policy ideas, but this one’s flaws are so glaringly obvious that it seems even he can’t avoid it. Relocating the embassy would seriously cross Arab states and would all but guarantee a new round of bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians and provoke the anger of millions of Muslims across the Arab world, potentially destabilizing the region even further. In short, there is no way this doesn’t end up being a giant mess for all involved.

Two, except for Adelson and some far-right figures like Bennett, no one is really asking for it. For Benjamin Netanyahu, an escalation in Israel’s already-precarious security situation could not come at a worse timing, politically, just as Israel’s prime minister has begun to recover some popular support following a spate of corruption scandals.

For Israel in general, moving the embassy would risk its burgeoning intelligence-sharing ties with Gulf states. And say what you will about settlers, but despite the rhetoric, overall they are a pretty pragmatic bunch. In the eyes of many, moving the embassy is essentially a meaningless symbolic gesture that carries too high a price tag.

Third, in recent weeks Trump has pretty much completely abandoned his campaign’s hard-line stance on Israel and embraced the Obama line, that they are "not helpful." Also, the president seems committed (as much as he can be, at least) to the idea of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, thus falling headfirst into the same trap every new American president falls into upon entering into office: embarking on a doomed-to-fail round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Moving the embassy would end his efforts to achieve “the ultimate deal” before they even truly began.

Thus, much to Adelson’s chagrin, Trump is unlikely to move the embassy to Jerusalem. This, no doubt, will infuriate Adelson and the rest of the far-right crowd, who were counting on Trump to be different.

On behalf of most of America, the world, and the universe at large, I would like to officially welcome Sheldon Adelson and the pro-settlement people to the “disappointed with Trump’s performance” party. Grab a Zoloft and a free oxygen mask, guys — we’re all going to be here a while.