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US Senate votes to keep embassy in Jerusalem

Former president Trump moved the US's Israel embassy to Jerusalem in 2018 [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 February, 2021

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The Senate has voted overwhelmingly to maintain the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, with only three senators including Bernie Sanders dissenting.
The US Senate has voted 97-3 in favour of keeping the US embassy in Jerusalem, with only Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tom Carper of Delaware voting against. 

An amendment in favour of maintaining the embassy in Jerusalem was added to a bill on the US's Covid-19 budget by Republican Senators Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee.

Israel occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Most of the international community does not recognize the holy city as Israel's capital.

Writing on Twitter, Inhofe said the amendment would, “make the US Embassy in Jerusalem permanent, effectively preventing it from being downgraded or moved.”

The US embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 by former President Trump, a decision seen by many  as a betrayal of the Palestinian people and the peace process. 

Trump was the first US president to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, enacting a 1995 congressional decision that called for the relocation.

All previous presidents had made use of a waiver option, delaying the decision. 

Only a small handful of countries recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the only other country to maintain an embassy there besides the US is Guatemala.

Speaking during the vote, Inhofe said that the, “amendment should not be controversial to anyone. It has been our position in the US for 25 years. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and we should have our embassy in Jerusalem." 

Bill Hagerty, who co-authored the bill with Inhofe said, “establishing this embassy is paving the way for peace across the region and should be preserved. Now our allies there know we will stand with them.”

The US transfer of its embassy to Jerusalem inflamed tensions, with dozens of Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip being killed by Israeli forces on the day it was opened in 2018. 

Critics of the move say it is likely to remain an obstacle to a peace settlement

President Joe Biden is not expected to change course on the Trump era decision.

On the campaign trail, he said that the embassy would remain in Jerusalem, but added that viewed the decision as “short-sighted and frivolous.”

At his confirmation hearing, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed the Biden administration’s intention to keep their embassy in Jerusalem, while adding that “confidence building measures” are needed to, “create an environment in which we might once again be able to help advance a solution to the Israel and Palestinian relationship.”

"The only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution," said Blinken.

Read more: What a Biden presidency could mean for the Middle East

Since taking office, the Biden administration has said that it intends to roll back a number of Trump era policies related to Palestine, restoring US aid programmes, providing economic support, and reopening diplomatic offices.

Bernie Sanders, who voted against the amendment, has been vocal in his opposition to Israeli policies which target Palestinians. 

He has described right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "reactionary racist", blaming him for the stalling of peace negotiations.

Netanyahu, who was close to Trump, has forged ahead with settlement building in the West Bank and announced a plan to annex one-third of the occupied Palestinian territory before temporarily suspending it.

Palestinians hope to set up a state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.

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