Institute for Research:
Middle Eastern Policy

"Research - Awareness - Accountability"




January 30, 2017

Poll: Most Americans don't want US embassy moved to Jerusalem
Candidates keep making the promise to get elected

By Grant F. Smith, Director of Research, IRmep

An IRmep poll fielded by Google Consumer Surveys January 27-29 reveals 56.2 percent of the US adult Internet user population prefers the US keep its Israel embassy in Tel Aviv. Only 38.3 percent prefer moving it to Jerusalem, while 5.5 percent are either uncertain or have other responses. The statistically-significant survey has an RMSE score of 3.3%.

Israel’s policy since its founding in 1948 has been to locate foreign embassies in Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv. However, the original 1947 UN agreement partitioning Palestine into Arab and Jewish states required that Jerusalem be “internationalized.” Israel’s US lobby began laying the groundwork for moving the US embassy—in hopes that others would follow and stay—in the late 1970s. In 1979, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) submitted a petition with 100,000 signatures to President Jimmy Carter—who had campaigned in favor of a move—asking him to formally withdraw the US from the 1947 UN Agreement and relocate the embassy. Carter refused.

In 1984 the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), working with conservative Christian organizations such as the Moral Majority, provided testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of a “move the embassy” bill introduced by Senator Daniel P. Moynihan (D-NY). AIPAC argued in 18 pages of testimony and an accompanying booklet that US policy was "divorced from reality" and was an "affront" to Israel and that "the American Jewish community wants to see an end to the anti-Israel tilt that for decades has afflicted US policy toward Jerusalem." AIPAC also claimed that US religious demographics were strongly in favor, because "most Christian Americans...also are likely to support a change." The Reagan administration strongly opposed the bill as undermining its ability to “play an effective role in the Middle East peace process.”

AIPAC fully committed to passing a law in the mid-1990s to thwart the Oslo peace process. The Oslo accords sought a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians through negotiation of borders, addressing the issue of Israeli settlements and the final status of Jerusalem. AIPAC was determined to create new facts on the ground by predetermining the outcome, stating it was “imperative to establish now the US conviction that realistic negotiations must be premised on the principle that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and must remain united.” AIPAC’s chosen vehicle was the presidential candidacy of Kansas Republican Senator Bob Dole. Dole was not an obvious choice.

Dole was conservative on US foreign aid to Israel, proposing a 5 percent cut in 1990. That same year Dole passionately urged that the Senate not pass Concurrent Resolution 106 which declared that Congress “strongly believes that Jerusalem must remain an undivided city.” Dole instead argued “…[the Arabs] regard Jerusalem as part of their homeland and they have a strong emotional attachment to it. I am not trying to argue that point; I am only trying to underscore how sensitive and how complex this issue is. The real point is not whether I, or even 100 Senators, believe that Jerusalem should or should not be the capital of Israel. The issue is whether the Senate of the United States should be jumping into the middle of an extremely sensitive situation, without looking, in many cases without even thinking, first." Despite Dole’s opposition, the resolution passed.

However, in 1995 Dole was running for president against incumbent Bill Clinton, seeking campaign contributions from big Israel lobby donors and votes in key states. Dole expressed his entirely new position sponsored in a bill to move the embassy, co-sponsored by Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyle. Dole proclaimed, "In my view, the United States does not have to wait for the end of final status talks to begin the process of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem." Delaware Senator Joe Biden was also a staunch supporter. “Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem will send the right signal, not a destructive signal. To do less would be to play into the hands of those who will try their hardest to deny Israel the full attributes of statehood.”

Zionist Organization of America legal scholar Malvina Halberstam and three AIPAC legal researchers worked diligently to make sure the new bill would not be challenged on constitutional separation of powers grounds. The resultant bill leveraged congressional prerogatives over spending authorizations, demanding that $100 million of the US State Department’s “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad'' budget for fiscal years 1996-1997 prioritize Jerusalem embassy construction. Under the act, no further State Department overseas building funding for any project would be authorized until the State Department certified the embassy was open by May 31, 1999 at the latest.

However, the bill contained a ZOA-AIPAC engineered waiver designed to avoid constitutional challenges that the law infringed on the president’s authority over foreign policy. The president could keep US State Department overseas building funds intact by issuing a waiver every six months certifying that the move could not be made on “national security grounds.” On the campaign trail in 1992 Bill Clinton professed, “I believe in the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” He never repeated the notion after being elected to office. After providing an opposing legal opinion to congress and even threatening a veto, President Clinton grudgingly allowed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to become law without signing it.

Major US presidential candidates who campaigned in favor of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Democratic Party

Republican Party

Joe Biden

George W. Bush

Jimmy Carter

Ted Cruz

Bill Clinton

Bob Dole

Hillary Clinton

Gerald Ford

Michael Dukakis

John McCain

Gary Hart

Mitt Romney

John Kerry

Marco Rubio

Walter Mondale

Donald Trump

Until the election of Donald Trump, it has been a bit of a running joke within Israel lobby circles that candidates campaigning for the highest office in the land always promise to move the embassy, only to renege after assuming power. AIPAC officials claim the issue is always at the very top of their agenda, and work tirelessly to make sure it appears—despite growing and vocal opposition—in Democratic party platforms. GOP party platforms, which court the evangelical Christian vote, are much easier. At the beginning of 2001, AIPAC executive Howard Kohr asserted "The issue of Jerusalem remains a priority for us…It will always be on the agenda.” AIPAC, he claimed "takes President [George W. Bush] at his word; he has stated he will begin the process of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. This administration has made a hallmark of standing by its commitments." However, before, during and after 9/11 and the disastrous US invasion of Iraq—a policy at the forefront of neoconservative regional designs and quietly supported by AIPAC—Bush resisted all further Israel lobby efforts to move the embassy with waivers and signing statements. President Obama followed suit, signing a presidential waiver not to move the embassy like clockwork every six months.

Donald J. Trump has been as vocal as any presidential candidate in promising to move the embassy. Trump declared in a 2016 AIPAC candidate forum that as president he would "move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem." This statement may have been to soften his earlier proposals to tighten the reigns on US foreign aid—and more worryingly to the lobby—“remain neutral” on the Israel Palestine front, “the toughest negotiation of all time.”

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations leader Malcom Hoenlein claims the issue can be finessed in order to avoid generating controversy. Hoenlein recently admitted that the move is not a pressing matter for the Israeli government officials he frequently consults. Interested parties beyond the lobby, including Palestinians abroad and in the US, who are rarely consulted, are closely watching for indications that President Trump will follow through on growing post-election rhetoric and allow the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to come into force by not signing a waiver in June.

Whatever action President Trump takes—or in this case fails to take—the record is clear. Those in favor of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem have never presented a compelling case directly to the American public about what US national interest it would serve. This is because there is no case. It is also why—when informed of its true authors and UN opposition—Americans do not approve of the move.


Institute for Research Middle Eastern Policy, Inc. 
Copyright 2002-2019 IRmep. All Rights Reserved.
Content may not be reprinted or retransmitted in whole
or part without the expressed written consent and
citation of IRmep unless otherwise directed.