This article by B'nai B'rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs Adriana Camisar originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
U.S. President Donald Trump did the right thing when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem has been central to the Jewish people for 3,000 years and the capital of the State of Israel since 1949. And it will remain the capital of Israel under any peace agreement, even if the definitive boundaries of the city are subject to negotiation.
Trump was also complying with US law, as the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 called for the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In addition, last June, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem that called upon the president and all US officials to abide by the provisions of the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Therefore, this was a legitimate, sovereign decision by an American president. In this regard, the UN General Assembly resolution adopted on December 21 that opposed this decision was presumptuous, to say the least.
An analysis of Latin American and Caribbean votes, though, shows an important number of countries did not oppose the US decision.
In fact, of 19 Latin American countries, nine did not support the resolution: Guatemala and Honduras voted against; Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay abstained; and El Salvador was suspiciously absent.
With regard to the 15 members of the Caribbean community, also known as CARICOM, seven did not support the resolution: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago abstained; and St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia were absent.
Before the General Assembly vote, both Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the US would cut off financial aid to any countries that voted in favor of the resolution. This message was heavily criticized by the press and in diplomatic circles.
After the vote, many commentators said the strategy did not work. When it comes to Latin America and the Caribbean, this is not quite true. Let’s analyze each case: Guatemala and Honduras, which voted against the UN resolution, both have long-standing relationships with the State of Israel that have become even stronger in the last few years. Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales, it is worth noting, recently announced his decision – which could be followed by other countries in the region – to follow the US example and move the Guatemalan Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The abstentions of Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay, on the other hand, can be mainly explained by the general worldview of these governments and their fairly good relations with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to strengthen ties with Latin America and his recent historic trip to the region – in which he visited Argentina, Colombia and Mexico and met with Paraguay’s president while in Argentina – could have had an impact, too.
But there is no doubt the administration’s message had an impact on the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, two countries that have consistently voted for every anti-Israel resolution at the UN CARICOM members that did not to support the resolution against Trump’s Jerusalem decision – with the exception of Haiti – usually vote at the UN against the US position on Israel. The fact that they were either absent or abstained from this resolution is striking and shows the administration’s message had a strong effect on this group of countries.
Adriana Camisar, is an attorney by training who holds a graduate degree in international law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University). She has been B'nai B'rith International Assistant Director for Latin American Affairs since late 2008, and Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs since 2013, when she relocated to Argentina, her native country. Prior to joining B'nai B'rith International, she worked as a research assistant to visiting Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo (former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), at Harvard University; interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; worked at a children's rights organization in San Diego, CA; and worked briefly as a research assistant to the Secretary for Legal Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS). To view some of her additional content, click here.
sIt was a historic announcement: President Trump declared on December 5 that the U.S. now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, thus acknowledging a longstanding reality and seemingly ending 69 years of mixed signals from the U.S. government about Jerusalem’s status. The U.S. will eventually bolster this decision by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump indicated.
Trump’s announcement is consistent with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which required the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem but allows the president a waiver every six months in the interest of national security. For the past 22 years, presidents of both parties have relied on the waiver to delay the move.
But has the confusion over U.S. policy come to an end, or has it simply entered a new phase? Recent indications of a disconnect between the White House and the State Department over Jerusalem have raised questions about the meaning of the presidential declaration, even as supporters of the policy shift continue to embrace the symbolic change they have long sought.
Two days after the president’s announcement, Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield told reporters that “on consular practice there is no change at this time” in the wake of the White House declaration. This raises important questions about implementation of U.S. policy. For example:
1. Americans born in Jerusalem have never been allowed to designate Israel as their country of birth in their U.S. passports; rather, their place of birth is merely identified as “Jerusalem.” Will this change in light of President Trump’s decision to “finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital”?
2. The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem has always reported directly to the State Department instead of the U.S. embassy to Israel, as though Jerusalem were a separate country. Will the consulate now report to the embassy, which is set to move to Jerusalem?
3. White House and State Department official documents have until now identified Jerusalem simply by the name of the city, rather than by “Jerusalem, Israel.” Will U.S. government communiqués finally acknowledge what President Trump’s announcement did, namely, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, rather than an independent city?
Then there is the matter of when the embassy move, the most tangible symbol of the U.S. policy shift, will actually take place. Many procedural steps remain, such as finding a site in Jerusalem, securing funding, completing construction, and satisfying complex security requirements. This could take years. In the meantime, it is possible Trump will continue exercising the presidential waiver, as he has done twice this year. Until the move is finalized or at least well underway – until the U.S. policy shift becomes grounded in steel and concrete – America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will seem more ephemeral than permanent.
Nevertheless, the United States has crossed a threshold of sorts. The administration has conceded that Israel, like any other country in the world, is entitled to select its capital and have that choice be honored by the international community. On Israel’s path toward the long-overdue normalization of its place in the world, this step cannot be discounted.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: