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Top 2020 Dems wouldn't reverse Trump's Jerusalem embassy decision

Illustration of a Democratic donkey and an Israeli flag
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The 2020 Democratic presidential front-runners have accepted President Trump's Jerusalem move.

The bottom line: Over the last week, Axios reached out to all of the top tier candidates, and not one of them — including former Vice President Joe Biden — would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv.

Why it matters: Many prominent Democrats, including most of the presidential contenders, chastised Trump for moving the embassy to Jerusalem in 2017, stating that it would escalate tensions in the region and wipe out any chance for a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel.

State of play: In addition to Biden, Sens. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand — as well as former Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Mayor Pete Buttigieg — said they would not reverse Trump's decision.

  • Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Julián Castro, declined to express an opinion on the matter, despite having sharply criticized Trump at the time of the move.

What they're saying:

  • “Vice President Biden would not move the American embassy back to Tel Aviv," a campaign spokesman told Axios. "But he would re-open our consulate in East Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians. He would also return the United States to the effort of encouraging a two-state solution — the only way to truly guarantee Israel’s long-term security as a Jewish and democratic state and meet the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians for a state of their own."
  • "I opposed the move of the embassy because I believed it should have been included in the larger process of negotiations," Booker told Axios. "Now that the embassy has been moved, I do not see moving it back as either practical or productive."
  • "[Gillibrand believes] Trump's decision came at the wrong time," Gillibrand's campaign spokesman told Axios. "While she won't undo that unproductive and impulsive decision, she would undertake new diplomatic initiatives to restart peace negotiations."
  • Read their full responses here.

The big picture: Axios contributor Barak Ravid writes from Israel that he has spoken with many democratic foreign policy advisers who worked with former Presidents Clinton and Obama — some of whom are now working with the different campaigns on this issue — and found a consensus on the following points:

  • They would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv, but would freeze the process of building the new embassy in Jerusalem.
  • They'd reopen the consulate general and establish a U.S. diplomatic post in Jerusalem accredited to the Palestinian Authority.
  • They stress that U.S. policy should ensure Jerusalem will be a shared capital for Israel and the future Palestinian state.
  • They support reopening the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington. 
  • They would renew funding to the the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
  • They would renew funding to the Palestinian Authority. 
  • They would strive to complete all these steps within the first 100 days of a new Democratic president.

America's close relationship with Israel, reinforced by Trump's affinity for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has increasingly come under fire by several members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

  • Several Democratic campaign aides told Axios they recognize the sensitivity surrounding this issue and expressed concerns that any misstep, whether in policy or rhetoric, would only exacerbate existing tensions and further jeopardize a shot at a Middle East peace deal.
Visual: Lazaro Gamio/Axios