President Donald Trump, in office for less than a week, has proven himself to be a decisive man. Through the use of executive orders, those much-derided tools of presidential power that are now embraced by chief executives of both Republican and Democratic persuasions, he has instituted a federal hiring freeze for all non-defense, non-health and non-security departments and scuttled any possible American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
He also relaxed the burdens of the Affordable Care Act, such as the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, and reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy banning the disbursement of federal funds to international groups that perform abortions or lobby to promote them. And that was all done on his first full workday in office. Whatever deliberations that may have factored into the presidential decision-making process, they either took place in between his Jan. 20 inauguration and the beginning of his first work week or during the transition period as his advisers worked to identify policy priorities and first actions prior to taking office.
Might we see similar rapid fortitude regarding what Trump himself has called a key priority, as recently as last week — the moving of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
Don’t bet on it.
Speaking on the same Monday that the president signed the flurry of executive orders from the Oval Office, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who last week said a decision would be coming “soon,” told reporters that “it’s very early in this process.”
“We’re at the beginning stages of this decision-making process,” he went on, “and [Trump’s] team will continue to consult with stakeholders” in Israel.
To be sure, deliberative caution may not be a bad thing. The risk of inflaming tensions in the region might be great, as indeed Jordan and the Palestinians warned over the weekend that any attempt to move the embassy could destabilize the Middle East. And as I pointed out in this space two weeks ago, well-intentioned foreign policy decisions have a nasty habit of producing unintended consequences.
But it’s also true that a very large segment of our community, including those who voted for Hillary Clinton, have looked hopefully upon Trump’s promise last year at the AIPAC Police Conference to move the embassy to Jerusalem and his apparent willingness to deal favorably with Israel.
Might we be just the slightest bit naive?
It’s too early to tell, of course, but it’s worth noting that since Congress mandated the moving of the embassy in 1995, presidential candidates have been quick to promise to actually carry through with it only to issue the law’s provided-for waiver every six months once in office. They’ve done so on national security grounds, and Trump’s continued insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, there’s very little to suggest that the 45th president will not be as likely to do the same thing.
Setting the tone for his presidency and the supposed new way of doing things in Washington, D.C., Trump told those watching the inauguration that he, more than any other president in recent memory and certainly more than the politicians gathered behind him, would put America’s interests above all others.
“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay,” he said. “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. … But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future.
“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power,” the president continued. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.”
It would be dangerous of the pro-Israel community to think for any second that the Jewish state alone is not going to be subject to Trump’s paradigm. It receives billions of dollars a year in U.S. military aid, and to justify continued American goodwill, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke to the president on Sunday and will be visiting Washington, D.C. next month, will have to convince Trump how such decisions as moving the embassy and protecting Israel in the U.N. Security Council will ultimately be to the benefit of the United States of America.
Many of us take for granted such propositions, but if we want real action out of the new administration we all are going to need to step up our game when it comes to articulating that Israel’s interests are America’s interests too. Otherwise, it could be a long time before we see the U.S. Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected].