Trump Keeps U.S. Israel Embassy Out of Jerusalem, Breaking Vow

  • Decision violates campaign promise to move post from Tel Aviv
  • Palestinians, Arabs say embassy move would hurt peace talks

Trump Reaffirms 'Unbreakable Bond' Between U.S., Israel

President Donald Trump won’t move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem for now, issuing a memorandum Thursday that explicitly requires the diplomatic mission to remain in Tel Aviv for at least six months.

His decision breaks a campaign pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem. But Trump decided such a move would antagonize Palestinians who want part of the city for their future state and would damage prospects for peace in the region, an administration official said.

The White House insists the U.S. president still plans to move the embassy, though the official declined to predict when conditions will be right to do so.

“President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests,” the White House said in a statement. “But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”

Bending Promises

The embassy waiver is the latest instance of Trump bending foreign-policy campaign promises as he confronts the complicated realities of global affairs. Trump pledged during his campaign to “rip up” the 2015 nuclear deal Iran reached with the U.S. and five other world powers. But he has passed up chances to do so. In April, his administration certified Iran was complying with the terms of the accord and in May he issued sanctions waivers to meet commitments under the agreement.

He likewise held off on a promise to label China a currency manipulator after concluding the the nation could help pressure on North Korea.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “disappointed” by the decision to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv but “we appreciate today’s expression of President Trump’s friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement sent by text message.

“Maintaining embassies outside the capital drives peace further away by helping keep alive the Palestinian fantasy that the Jewish people and the Jewish state have no connection to Jerusalem,” the statement added.

Embassy Law

The Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, passed by Congress in 1995, requires the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem. But it gives the president the power to waive the law for six months at a time, something every president has done since the 1990s.

Trump said in his campaign that he would move the embassy “fairly quickly” after taking office, but he has instead maintained the status quo as president. Trump hopes his decision to delay a move of the embassy will add momentum to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the official said.

Like his predecessors, Trump has found shifting U.S. policy toward Israel in particular to be fraught. Ahead of Trump’s trip to Israel in May, White House officials refused to say whether they considered the Western Wall in Jerusalem to be on Israeli territory. Trump eventually visited the holy site during his visit -- becoming the first U.S. president to do so -- but without any Israeli officials alongside him.

Why U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem Is So Fraught: QuickTake Q&A

Trump visited Israel last month during his first foreign trip as president, meeting separately with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Trump administration “understands the dangers” of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Palestinian negotiator Mohammad Shtayyeh said in an interview at his office in Ramallah.

“The issue of the embassy is behind us,” Shtayyeh said. “We want to give the American administration a chance to succeed. We will help them.”

Political Reality

Previous presidents including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush pledged to move the Israel embassy in their campaigns, only to abandon the promise in the face of political reality. Middle East experts have said that putting a U.S. embassy to Israel in Jerusalem would make it harder for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final peace agreement.

But Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said on a conference call through The Israel Project that Trump’s campaign promise has nonetheless “changed completely” the discussion on moving the embassy.

‘It used to be a non-event, it was taken for granted that the president was not going to move the embassy,” Kontorovich said. “He is in a sense putting the Palestinians on notice: if you are saying that I shouldn’t move the embassy because it will hurt the peace process, show there is a peace process, show me that you are serious.”

After Bloomberg News first reported May 18 that Trump would keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, four Republican Senators introduced a resolution encouraging Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“This resolution restates what has been said by most members of the Senate time and time again,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said in a statement. “Moving our embassy from Tel Aviv to western Jerusalem is not inconsistent with any peace proposal. It is consistent with the reality -- as I and many others understand it -- that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem.”

— With assistance by Jennifer Jacobs, Jonathan Ferziger, and Michael Arnold

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