JERUSALEM, Israel – More than 60 influential U.S. Christian leaders sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. But a White House official told Reuters though President Trump wants to move the embassy to Jerusalem, he won't do it now since he feels it would complicate a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
It was a campaign promise candidate Donald Trump stated over and over.
"We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem," he frequently said on the campaign trail, inevitably to resounding applause.
But when President Trump visits Israel, he won't fulfill that promise. It's yet another chapter in American's long diplomatic history in the Holy Land.
The first U.S. consulate, established in 1844, stood inside the walls of the Old City, near the Jaffa Gate. Now the building is used by the Christian Information Center. In 1912, the consulate moved just a few blocks away to a place called Prophet's Street.
Then it moved to a location where the U.S. representative to the Palestinian Authority now sits. This consulate reports directly to the State Department rather than the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. About a 10-minute drive away stands a U.S. government building that provides consular services for U.S. citizens. All of this while the embassy sits in Tel Aviv.
After the White House announcement not to move the embassy now, the question remains, will it ever make it up to Jerusalem?
More than 20 years ago, David Parsons, media director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), helped draft the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.
"We actually met with [Arizona] Senator John Kyl up on Capitol Hill one day and we gauged that he was serious … that moving the embassy was an issue that he wanted to do on principle. It wasn't politics. It was principle and he asked us to draft a bill," Parsons told CBN News.
"But … as the bill went through the sausage grinder of Congress, it changed … They added this presidential waiver authority, which it was intended to gut the bill," Parsons explained. "It said every six months, the president can suspend this bill if he certifies it's in U.S. national security interests. It's fear that has kept us out."
20+ Years Postponement
For more than two decades, successive presidents have signed that waiver. The current one expires June 1. In addition to national security, another reason given for invoking the waiver is that the U.S. is supposed to be an honest broker.
How would you address the concern – or criticism – that some people have? If you do this, you undermine the "peace process" and you'll be undermining the ability to negotiate a deal.
"I think at least putting our embassy in West Jerusalem would actually strengthen the peace process," Parsons said. "It would give Israel confidence that its ally, America, is behind it. And I think that the longer the nations wait to do this, the bigger and bigger the question of Jerusalem becomes.
Parsons says Jerusalem seems to be on a 50-year cycle of favor.
"But when you look at, you see, not only the last 50 years when the city was reunified in 1967," Parsons continued. "In 100 years ago, when Allenby, the British general, marched into the city, liberated it from the Ottoman Turks, just as the British government was committing to building a Jewish state here. Even 150 years ago, 1867, General Warren discovered the Old City, the original City of David, south of the Temple Mount, and each of these things, every 50 years, something happening in Jerusalem to really free it and release it into its prophetic purposes."
Israeli leaders hope that 'one day' includes relocating the embassy.
"Well you know, Israel reunited Jerusalem 50 years ago, in 1967. But the connection with the Jewish people to Jerusalem spiritually goes back 2,000 years," Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) told CBN News. "And our claim, our presence in Jerusalem, has been here for decades…Jews have been streaming back to their ancient capital for years. And the movement of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is an American recognition of the special ties of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. It may be symbolic, but it goes to the core of the identity of Israel."
"I think the U.S. moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the right thing to do. It's – it's way overdue and, of course, it would be a blessing to – to the U.S," Parsons said.
In 1950, Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital. In 1967, it captured the Old City and the eastern part of Jerusalem. Then in 1980, Israel passed the Basic Law Jerusalem that incorporated all of the land captured in 1967 as its capital. That's when most embassies left Jerusalem for Tel Aviv and ICEJ moved in.
"To represent Christians from all over the world who want to stand in solidarity with Israel, help secure it and help it reach its destiny and also want to stand in solidarity with their claim and connection to Jerusalem," Parsons said.
And whether or not the U.S. Embassy eventually moves to Jerusalem, Parsons sees a glorious future for the city.
"This is that promised Son of David, the Messiah, [who] will rule and reign over the world in peace and righteousness and, of course, we're Christians," Parsons said. "We believe that's Jesus, but I think a house of prayer for all people, that exalted throne of the Messiah during the Messianic age. This is Israel's ultimate destiny and Jerusalem's."