Democrats not keen to reignite Jerusalem embassy fight

President Trump’s decision to break decades of precedent by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem sparked anger on both sides of the aisle — but among Democrats running against Trump, there is little appetite to move it back.

Several candidates running for the right to face Trump next year have said they see no point in what some called a symbolic gesture. And foreign policy experts say Trump’s move effectively took what had always been a complicated decision off the table.

“I think what’s done is done,” South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg told Axios on HBO this weekend. “I don’t know that we’d gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv.”

{mosads}The politics of Israel and the Palestinian territories are fraught under normal circumstances.

Previous presidents have walked the fine line between publicly supporting moving the embassy to Jerusalem and quietly signing waivers every six months that left it in Tel Aviv.

Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama all signed the waivers to a 1995 law calling for the embassy to move, even as they publicly declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

Few Democratic candidates this year seem willing to even entertain moving back the embassy. Aides to former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

But those who did echoed Buttigieg’s assessment.

“I believe that the embassy should stay in Jerusalem, which will remain (in whole or part) the capital of Israel under the two-state solution which I (and every prior American president) have supported,” former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said in an emailed statement. “Moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv at this point would be counterproductive and a symbolic gesture of support at best for a two-state solution. I would rather focus my energy on negotiating a real two-state solution.”

Hickenlooper said he would reopen the U.S. Consulate in east Jerusalem, the primary point of contact between the American government and the Palestinian Authority, which the Trump administration shuttered.

In a brief interview, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) declined to say whether he would consider moving the embassy if he becomes president. But he criticized the Trump administration for the unilateral decision.

“They shouldn’t have moved it without it being part of the broader discussion,” Bennet told The Hill.

Foreign policy experts said Democratic candidates risk exacerbating a partisan split that has already opened over America’s close relationship with Israel.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted last year shows 46 percent of Americans surveyed sympathize with the Israelis over the Palestinians, including 79 percent of Republicans and just 27 percent of Democrats, the widest gap recorded since the question was first asked in 1978.

Views of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are equally split along partisan lines.

More than half of Republicans, 52 percent, see him favorably, compared with just 18 percent of Democrats. Almost 4 in 10 Democrats view him unfavorably, far more than the 15 percent of Republicans who said the same.

“They have to be very careful in responding to [the situation in the Middle East], whether it’s the Jerusalem embassy move or if you look at the Golan Heights policy declaration,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow who studies national security at the Center for American Progress.

“I see more downside in trying to turn the U.S.-Israel relationship into a partisan issue and trying to fight fire with fire,” Katulis said. “In the long run, it’s not good for either country.”

There is little consensus to move back the embassy among Democrats in Congress, most of whom opposed Trump’s decision at the time.

“That would only aggravate the situation even more,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who opposed Trump’s move initially. “Trump is good at stirring up things — not making them better but stirring them up. But I think it would be even more stirred up if we go back and reverse [Trump’s move] and play tit-for-tat.”

{mossecondads}Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.), a Jewish Democrat who also opposed moving the embassy, said the embassy could become a bargaining chip in future talks.

“I think it could be an element of negotiation,” said Yarmuth. “Who knows what’s possible, but I would definitely put it back on the table.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she wants the next president to move the embassy back.

“I think this is just completely the wrong direction and I hope that when we get a new president that we move the [embassy] and that we retain our adherence to the United Nations agreements, and to the idea that the United States is actually trying to arbitrate between some very difficult tensions and get to a two-state solution,” Jayapal said. “We need to go back to the United States actually being perceived as a potential arbiter of tensions in the Middle East.”

The lack of cohesion reflects the tensions that exist over America’s close relationship with Israel and the decades-long effort to reach a lasting peace.

But some observers said Trump’s move has had more of an impact in the United States, where America’s relationship with Israel has become a partisan flashpoint, than in Israel, where the stalemate between Israelis and the Palestinians continues.

“In some ways, Trump’s move of the embassy has not paid off. It hasn’t paid dividends in the region, and it hasn’t created stability,” Katulis said. “It’s actually opened up a more political debate about Israel than I think we’ve ever seen before.”

Alex Bolton contributed to this story.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Benjamin Netanyahu Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Bill Pascrell Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden John Hickenlooper John Yarmuth Michael Bennet Pete Buttigieg Pew Pramila Jayapal

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