Three Republican senators have introduced legislation to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, a plan backed by Donald Trump but likely to ignite fierce protests.
After being sworn into the 115th Congress in Washington, Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada and Marco Rubio of Florida unveiled the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act.
Similar moves by Republican majorities over the past two decades have come to nought, but this time they have a sympathetic president-elect in Trump. He has repeatedly pledged to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem and nominated a US ambassador who shares that view.
Critics warn that the move could unleash a wave of violence and further rattle the Israel-Palestine peace process and the future of a two-state solution.
Cruz, runner-up to Trump in the Republican presidential primary, said on Tuesday: “Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s vendetta against the Jewish state has been so vicious that to even utter this simple truth – let alone the reality that Jerusalem is the appropriate venue for the American embassy in Israel – is shocking in some circles.
“But it is finally time to cut through the double-speak and broken promises and do what Congress said we should do in 1995: formally move our embassy to the capital of our great ally Israel.”
A statement from Heller said that some state department funds would be withheld until the embassy was relocated. He said: “For years, I’ve advocated for America’s need to reaffirm its support for one of our nation’s strongest allies by recognising Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
“It honors an important promise America made more than two decades ago but has yet to fulfill. While administrations come and go, the lasting strength of our partnership with one of our strongest allies in the Middle East continues to endure.
Rubio added: “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel, and that’s where America’s embassy belongs. It’s time for Congress and the president-elect to eliminate the loophole that has allowed presidents in both parties to ignore US law and delay our embassy’s rightful relocation to Jerusalem for over two decades.”
The US embassy has been located on Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Street for half a century. US state department policy has long held that the status of Jerusalem will only be determined in final talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Although the US Congress passed a law ordering the move to Jerusalem in 1995, every president since then has exercised a six-month waiver to prevent it taking place, usually citing “national security concerns”. Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and peace negotiator, warned last month that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would result in the “destruction of the peace process as a whole”.
But David Friedman, the pro-Israel hardliner Trump nominated as his ambassador to Israel, has said he looks forward to serving in Jerusalem. Israel’s ambassador to the US has described the move of the embassy as a “great step forward to peace” and something that “should have happened a long time ago”.
Last month Obama angered Israel – and Trump – by allowing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction to be adopted.