Republican Senators Introduce Bill to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act would withhold certain funds from the State Department until the move is completed.

A general view shows the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on December 29, 2016.
AFP / Ahmad Gharbli

Wasting no time after the new U.S. Congress was sworn in on Tuesday, three Republican senators immediately introduced a bill to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) submitted the "Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act" to fulfill the promises to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital. The bill would withhold certain funds from the State Department until the move is completed. 

President-elect Donald Trump has promised on numerous occasions to quickly move the embassy to Jerusalem once he takes office, including when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in late September. At that meeting, he told Netanyahu that if elected, "a Trump administration would finally accept the long-standing congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel."

The bill goes beyond just moving the embassy. It also states that the U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as "the undivided capital of the State of Israel, both de jure and de facto," and that "every citizen of Israel should have the right to reside anywhere in the undivided city of Jerusalem." The proposed law would also require the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in any official documents.

"Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel, and that's where America's embassy belongs," said Rubio. "It's time for Congress and the president-elect to eliminate the loophole that has allowed presidents in both parties to ignore U.S. law and delay our embassy's rightful relocation to Jerusalem for over two decades."

Trump's appointment of David Friedman as his new ambassador to Israel is a sign that he means to carry out the move. Friedman has already made it clear he will live and work in Jerusalem, even though the State Department said there are no current plans to move the embassy.

Congress passed the original Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 by a large majority. That law required the United States to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999 – but also offered the president a way to postpone the move by signing a waiver twice a year based on "national security" concerns.  

Trump was not the first presidential candidate to promise moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made similar promises, but once in office, they signed waivers to avoid relocating the embassy. Hillary Clinton, too, was on the record as supporting the embassy's relocation. Barack Obama has also regularly signed the waiver – last time at the beginning of December.

Heller said the bill "honors an important promise America made more than two decades ago but has yet to fulfill." 

The issue of the U.S. Embassy being located in Tel Aviv goes back to just after the founding of Israel, and has been a major bone of contention throughout the years.

The official State Department policy is that the status of Jerusalem will only be determined in final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It does not recognize Jerusalem, even its western sections that have always been under Israeli control, as the capital. The State Department officially considers Jerusalem to have never been under the sovereignty of any country since the British Mandate ended in 1948, and is waiting for the conclusion of final status negotiations.