Despite Promise, Trump Won’t Be Moving U.S. Embassy To Jerusalem
One day before he’s set to leave on his first foreign trip, which will include stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel before heading to Europe for an audience with Pope Francis and a multinational summit, it’s being reported that President Trump will not formally announce that he is moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem as he had previously promised:
President Donald Trump has decided not to immediately move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a senior White House official said, violating a campaign promise but avoiding a provocation that could drive Palestinians away from peace talks.
The official said the administration considers its discussions with both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to be promising, with the Palestinians in particular agreeing to talk without preconditions. The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Trump said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March 2016 that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, calling it “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” The city is claimed as a capital by both Jews and Palestinians, however, and relocating the U.S. embassy — essentially declaring Jerusalem to be Israeli territory — would raise tensions.
“We don’t think it would be wise to do it at this time,” the official said. “We’ve been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done, but we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it had no comment on the report.
As president, Trump has said he’d like to try to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, calling it “the ultimate deal.” He sent an envoy, Jason Greenblatt, to the region in March to open talks, and Trump has met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.
As has been the case for every Republican and Democratic candidate for President in the past, while he was a candidate Trump promised that he would move the embassy as soon as he became President, but it quickly became clear that this was not going to be the case. Notwithstanding reports just days after he took office in January, it quickly became clear that the Administration was not going to move quickly on the decision despite Trump’s promise, and that has been the case going forward despite Trump’s pledge to the contrary. In doing so, of course, Trump is merely following the policy laid down by his predecessors in delaying a decision that is, in the end, not a very good idea. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act mandating the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999. However, the bill also includes a provision allowing the President to waive the mandate for a period of six months upon the issuance of a formal finding that it was in the national security interests of the United States to do so. President Clinton issued such findings every six months during his Presidency, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the same thing throughout their two terms in office. In the findings regarding waivers, each President cited the fact that moving the embassy before Israel and the Palestinians have reached an agreement on the final status of Jerusalem would imperil the possibility of peace talks in the region, needlessly inflame Palestinians, and potentially place American lives, property, and national interests at risk. President Trump has yet to issue such a waiver since the time limit on the last waiver issued by President Obama has not yet expired, but he has also not sought to rescind that waiver. The fact that he won’t be announcing the move during his visit to Israel when many expected that he might, is a strong indication that he’ll end up following the precedent set by his predecessors and waive making the move at this time. While it’s still possible that Trump might make the move after President Obama’s last waiver expires on June 1st, the fact that he won’t make any announcement about the embassy while in Israel suggests strongly that he’ll end up
Delaying this move is, of course, the right choice for Trump to make. As I’ve noted before, moving the embassy at this time would serve no purpose other than pleasing the conservative base of the Republican Party, for whom the location on the other side of the world seems to be a more important issue than it is for Jewish-Americans or many Israelis. In addition to the issue of settlement expansion, the final status of Jerusalem remains one of the most difficult issues yet to be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians and taking the step of formally moving the embassy would constitute a major step by the United States that would appear to the Palestinians that the U.S. could not serve as any kind of an impartial arbiter or go-between in getting any negotiations restarted. Additionally, Hamas and other radical Palestinians group have made clear that moving the embassy would but Americans in danger. Additionally, such a move would be rather costly at this point since the United States apparently doesn’t have property in Jerusalem itself that could serve as an embassy site, especially not one that would be located in an area that could be made safe from any potential terrorist attack. For the past nineteen years, it has been U.S. policy that such a move would not be in American national interests at this time and none of the facts on the ground have changed sufficiently to justify deviating from that policy. Because of that, I expect Trump will follow his predecessors and continue waiving the requirements of the 1995 law. This will disappoint his supporters, of course, but that’s unlikely to go very far given the fact that he’s already backtracked on several of his campaign promises and it doesn’t appear that the true believers have abandoned him quite yet.