Remember Benghazi? Congressional Republicans have spent the past four years using the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya to go after Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration over their failure to protect American personnel overseas. Sen. Ted Cruz called for a joint select committee to investigate “why our facilities in Benghazi were not secure, why we didn’t respond to the reports of terrorist activities, why we didn’t have military assets in place to protect our brave men who were serving there.” And Sen. Marco Rubio accused Clinton’s State Department of an “extraordinary failure…to take appropriate action to protect Americans.” But now that Clinton has been defeated, both former presidential candidates are willing to use the safety of American diplomatic personnel as a bargaining chip.
As the Huffington Post reports, the two former presidential candidates, along with Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, introduced legislation this week aimed at pressuring the incoming Trump administration to make good on its pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by threatening to cut security funding for embassies around the world. To literally make embassies less secure.
Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, but Palestinians also hope that East Jerusalem will be the capital of a future independent state, so other countries keep their embassies in Tel Aviv as long as the city’s final status remains unresolved. In 1995, however, Congress passed legislation—co-sponsored by current Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—requiring that the U.S. embassy in Israel move to Jerusalem. But that law allowed the president to delay the move for six months over national security concerns, and presidents have availed themselves of that option ever since then. Now Cruz, Rubio, and Heller want to make sure that Donald Trump doesn’t do the same, and their measure, if passed, would raise the stakes significantly.
The measure would restrict by 50 percent the funding appropriated by the State Department for “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance” for the next fiscal year until the secretary of state reports to Congress that the new embassy in Jerusalem is officially opened. For fiscal years 2018 and 2019, those funds would only be allowed to be spent on the Jerusalem embassy until it opened.
As the blog Diplopundit sums it up, “Just so we’re clear, three American senators including those who were screaming #BENGHAZI for the last several years, have put forward a bill that would freeze half the State Department funding on embassy security.”
Such extreme tactics may not even be necessary. Trump pledged to move the embassy during his campaign, which doesn’t itself mean much—so did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—but he has recently given indications that he means it. His pick for ambassador to Israel, bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, said in his initial statement after being chosen that he looks forward to working “from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be a dangerous development for U.S. foreign policy, the Arab world, and Israel itself. The status of Jerusalem is an extraordinarily sensitive issue, and it’s not out of the question to think that the move could provoke a third intifada. The outrage such a move would cause could also force Arab governments such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, which have been quietly more cooperative with Israel in recent years, into a more openly antagonistic posture. And all this for a mere symbolic gesture.
The emphasis this issue gets in Washington suggests that when it comes to Israel, lawmakers care a lot more about symbolic gestures than reality. Apparently, the same is true when it comes to protecting American diplomats.