President Trump announced late last year that the U.S. will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and it looks like the new U.S. embassy will be ready ahead of schedule.
The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem will open by the end of 2019, Vice President Mike Pence said Monday. Previous estimates suggested the embassy’s move from Tel Aviv could take up to four years.
The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital was heralded by many pro-Israel activists but decried by Palestinians and America’s Arab allies.
Read on to find out why the decision is so contentious — and why it wasn’t accomplished before.
Finding the capital
The international community – and until 2017, the U.S. – largely does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as it is claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis. Like other countries, the U.S. has kept its embassy in Tel Aviv, approximately an hour away.
The U.S. moving its embassy would cause “significant harm to the U.S. credibility as a mediator” for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, said Dylan Williams, vice president of government affairs for J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israel advocacy organization.
Williams added that the move could “undermine confidence” from Palestinians and Arab countries that the U.S. would remain an impartial negotiator in efforts to create peace in the Middle East.
“It shouldn’t be moved prior to agreement by the parties to the conflict as part of a comprehensive agreement ending their conflict,” Williams, J Street’s chief lobbyist, told Fox News.
Williams added that such a move could also turn deadly.
“Even seemingly minor changes of Jerusalem’s status quo — either in fact or in law — have historically had the impact of sparking violence,” Williams said.
Support for Jerusalem
Millions of evangelical eyes were on Trump, waiting to see if he would keep his campaign promise to move the embassy, longtime Pastor John Hagee told Fox News ahead of the president’s official announcement.
“I can assure you that 60 million evangelicals are watching this promise closely because if President Trump moves the embassy into Jerusalem, he will historically step into immortality,” Hagee said. “He will be remembered for thousands of years for his act of courage to treat Israel like we already treat other nations.”
“If he does not, he will be remembered as just another president who made a promise he failed to keep which would generate massive disappointment in that strong evangelical base that went to vote for him against Hillary Clinton,” he added.
“Trump will be remembered for thousands of years for his act of courage to treat Israel like we already treat other nations.”
Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church, a megachurch in San Antonio, Texas. He founded the nonprofit Christians United for Israel in 2006, as well.
Pence became the first ever sitting American vice president to address the Israeli Knesset on Jan. 22 – and he reiterated the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“I am here to convey one simple message. America stands with Israel. We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight,” Pence said. “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, good over evil, and liberty over tyranny.”
A March 2016 Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans didn’t express an opinion when asked if the U.S. embassy should move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But of those who did have an opinion, Americans were split with 24 percent supporting a move and 20 percent disagreeing with relocation.
Trump isn’t the only president to declare his intentions to move the U.S. embassy; both former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also pledged to move the embassy — only to abandon the idea once in the White House.
Congress approved in 1995 the funding and relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem by 1999. But the law included a stipulation, allowing for presidents to sign continuous waivers to stall the relocation. Every president since has used the waiver in an effort to avoid conflict with the peace negotiations.
Fox News’ John Roberts, Leland Vittert and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.