If Mitt Romney becomes president, there are a lot of important foreign policy decisions that he’d leave up to others. Most notably, Romney often says that whatever the generals decide, that’s the course he’ll take in Afghanistan (although he backtracked on that stance when pressed recently).
Now it seems that a President Romney will allow the Israeli government to decide American policy toward that country. The free daily newspaper Israel Hayom — a media outlet closely associated with right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — asked Romney if, as president, he would ever consider moving the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In his answer, Romney made some astonishing claims. First, that his policy toward Israel will be guided by Israeli leaders; second, on the Jerusalem issue, he’d do whatever Israel tells him to do; and third, he does not think the United States should take a leadership role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
ROMNEY: The actions that I will take will be actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders. I don’t seek to take actions independent of what our allies think is best, and if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts, then that’s something I’ll be inclined to do. But again, that’s a decision which I would look to the Israeli leadership to help guide. I don’t think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process, instead we should stand by our ally. Again, my inclination is to follow the guidance of our ally Israel, as to where our facilities and embassies would exist.
The policy that the American Embassy reside in Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem pre-dates the current administration. In fact, as Lara Friedman notes at Americans for Peace Now, the U.S. “does not recognize the sovereignty of any party in any part of Jerusalem (East or West)” and it’s “a policy that dates back to pre-1948, and has been followed by every U.S. Administration since, regardless of the President or party in the White House.”
In 1995, Congress passed a law allowing funding for the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but the law includes an executive waiver allowing the president to invoke national security interests to block such a move. Every U.S. president since the law passed, Clinton, Obama and Bush, has invoked that waiver.
In an email to ThinkProgress, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann laid out the consequences should Romney follow through on his pledge:
Were an American President be actually so irresponsible as to move the US embassy to Jerusalem outside of the context of a comprehensive permanent status agreement, such a President would contribute nothing to legitimizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Instead he would be following Israel into abject isolation, and the United States into an weakened and marginal regional and global role.
Mitt Romney the candidate falls short of making that irresponsible undertaking, and one would hope that if elected President he would find less devastating ways of protecting the US interest and aiding Israel to arrive at a conflict-ending agreement.
But it might also come as a surprise to some that Romney not only wants Israel to dictate U.S. policy, but that he does not want the United States to lead the peace process. Out on the campaign trail, Romney regularly says Obama “has thrown Israel under the bus.” But perhaps now we know who Romney thinks should be driving it.