What’s more, anything that detracts from the movement toward a peaceful resolution of conflict must be avoided. We do not promote what we call the “territorialism” of the Bible. We anchor our thinking not in the Old Testament’s land-based promises, but in the gospel, where the tribal or local theologies about Israel become global and universal, welcoming all people from every tribe and every land into a divine promise of blessing. Paul can refer to gentiles as children of Abraham (Romans 4:11) because it’s through faith, not ethnic lineage, that one gains access to the blessings of God. This shift in emphasis, which challenges the exclusivity of any one tribe and universalizes blessing, explains the world-mission of the ancient church and the inclusion of gentiles in Jesus’s Jewish messianic movement. From this vantage, arguments for ethnic land claims—such as disputes over Jerusalem—sound foreign.
Finally, although there is little doubt that Jerusalem is the historic capital of biblical Israel, the ancient world did not view “capitals” as we do today. Tribal societies like Israel had one major city that generally housed a palace and a temple. Life orbited around this city and its defeat was the defeat of the nation itself. Today things are considerably different. Modern Tel Aviv, where all Israel’s embassies are located, did not exist in biblical times and now it is a substantial city of 500,000. Nevertheless, Jerusalem is the religious or perhaps the emotional capital of Israel.
But Jerusalem is also the religious and emotional capital of Palestinian life. The east side of the city is home to Palestinians who are either Muslim or Christian. Although their functional capital is in Ramallah, it is Jerusalem they look to for both churches and mosques. In Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city (after Mecca and Medina). The 7th-century Dome of the Rock is there, as well as the historic Al-Aqsa mosque. Palestinian Muslims are defensive about protecting their portion of the city and they see an embassy move as another step toward identifying all of Jerusalem fully with Israel. To say it troubles them is to put it mildly. Some Palestinians view it as a “declaration of war.”
Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is simply provocative. And this is a part of the world where the peace process requires us to avoid provocation at all costs. There’s a reason why the world’s embassies have stayed out of Jerusalem. It’s not based on anti-Israel antagonism; it’s a pragmatic decision to support the peace process and to view Jerusalem as a shared city that respects everyone’s privileges.
I’ve had career diplomats in the State Department tell me privately that an embassy move would be foolish. Unfortunately, many of these seasoned men and women are leaving their careers, or are being pushed out. We need people like them now to remind the White House that in the Middle East, even symbolic gestures can have very real, dangerous consequences. But we also need evangelicals to do this. Trump listens to his evangelical advisers—and they are the ones who can lead him back to the Hebrew prophets, where a different point of view can be found.