What is the Jerusalem Embassy Act? And what’s next for the U.S. Embassy?

When President Trump announced December 6 that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he also directed the U.S. State Department to begin preparations to move the U.S Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Specifically, the president cited a U.S. law called the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Here’s more about that 1995 law … and what comes next for the move.

What’s the Jerusalem Embassy Act?

In 1995, Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the American embassy there. The act reaffirms the right of every sovereign nation to designate its own capital city.

“The reality is Israel’s government, its courts, its prime minister’s office is all in Jerusalem today, so it is just an acknowledgment of what is the reality on the ground,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said December 7. “The president is simply carrying out the will of the American people.”

So why has it taken so long for the U.S. to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and to move the U.S. Embassy there?

For more than 20 years, previous American presidents have exercised the law’s “waiver,” which allows the U.S to delay moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace,” President Trump explained. These presidents “made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time.”

But after more than two decades of waivers, Trump said, “we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”

Does the Jerusalem Embassy Act have widespread support?

Congress adopted this act by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, and it was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago.

How will Trump’s announcement affect Middle East peace efforts?

As the president said December 6: “This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.”

The U.S. is not taking a position on the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved to negotiate.

“I call on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif,” Trump said.

What happens next?

The U.S. State Department has begun the process of hiring architects, engineers and planners for the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

When will the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem open?

Construction of a new U.S. Embassy typically takes at least three or four years. “We have to acquire a site. We have to develop building plans. We’ll have to construct the building. So this is not something that will happen overnight,” Tillerson said.