Five questions on Trump’s potential move of US embassy to Jerusalem
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Five questions on Trump’s potential move of US embassy to Jerusalem

Israelis, Evangelical leaders eagerly watching whether president signs waiver -- delaying relocation -- set to expire Thursday

The US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 14, 2016. (Flash 90)
The US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 14, 2016. (Flash 90)

US President Donald Trump faces a Thursday deadline to decide whether to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Israelis are eagerly watching to see whether he renews a waiver due to expire just before midnight on Thursday delaying the move, as his predecessors have done.

He is expected to sign the waiver, at least for now, as he seeks ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Here are five questions and answers explaining the issue:

What is the dispute?

Israel re-captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it. The move was never recognized by the international community but Israel declared the city its undivided capital.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be seen as endorsing Israel’s claim to the city and rejecting the Palestinian one. Countries with ties to Israel typically place their embassies in Tel Aviv and some have consulates in Jerusalem.

What is the waiver?

In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act calling on the country to move its embassy to the Holy City.

“Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel,” it said, demanding the government move the embassy.

The act is binding on governments but there was a clause that presidents could delay it for six months at a time to protect “national security interests.”

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed these waivers routinely every six months. Obama signed his final one in December which expires at 11:59 p.m. Washington time on Thursday (0359 GMT Friday).

Will Trump sign?

During the election campaign, Trump promised multiple times to move the embassy, and his new ambassador David Friedman is a strong advocate of the shift.

New US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman seen at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)
New US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman seen at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)

However, Trump has appeared to back away from the idea since taking office under pressure from the Palestinians and other Arab leaders.

During a trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas last week he didn’t mention moving the embassy. And as he seeks to inject new life into moribund peace talks, Trump may be wary of a move that could infuriate the Arab world.

“He will probably renew the waiver for another six months, but will come out with a statement saying he won’t necessarily do it again depending on the way in which the parties behave,” Alan Baker, a former Israeli ambassador turned analyst, told AFP.

What happens if he doesn’t?

If Trump chooses not to sign the waiver, the embassy wouldn’t move immediately, but there are rapid repercussions.

Under the 1995 act, the US State Department would see a 50-percent cut in all its future budgets for “acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad” until the new embassy opens.

US president Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after giving final remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before Trump's departure, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US president Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after giving final remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before Trump’s departure, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In 2016, $968 million was spent on embassy security, construction and maintenance, according to State Department figures.

What would be the impact of the move?

Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University in the United States and a backer of the move, says doing so would earn Trump credit with his supporters.

“It was an explicit campaign promise; doing it would help solidify his base and would help shore up support from congressional Republicans,” he told AFP.

US evangelical Christian leader Laurie Cardoza-Moore, president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, said many of Trump’s religious voters were watching carefully to ensure he didn’t renege on his promise.

“The embassy move pledge was a game changer for many evangelicals,” she said.

Palestinians have warned of potential violence and even a new intifada if the embassy were to move, saying it would strengthen radicals.

A Palestinians official earlier this year said moving the embassy would open up “the gates of hell,” claims Israel rejects.

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