WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming White House press secretary said Thursday that an announcement on the administration’s plan to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was in the works.
Asked about Trump’s intention to make the move — upending decades of US foreign policy — Sean Spicer told reporters to “stay tuned” and that “there will be a further announcement on that.”
Spicer’s statement comes less than 24 hours after US President Barack Obama warned his successor to be sure he’s “thought it through,” warning that “unilateral actions” in a volatile region like the Middle East can be “explosive.”
“The actions we take have enormous consequences and ramifications,” Obama said when asked about Trump’s stated goal of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s sovereign capital. “We’re the biggest kid on the block.”
“I think it is right and appropriate for a new president to test all the assumptions and re-examine the old ways of doing things,” he added. “But if you’re going to make big shifts in policy, just make sure you’ve thought it through and understand that there are going to be consequences.”
Palestinian and Arab leaders have warned that relocating the embassy could lead to mass protests and unrest. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated he could revoke the PLO’s recognition of Israel and Abbas’s Fatah party warned the move “would open the gates of hell.”
Trump vowed to move the embassy during his address at last year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, and he has indicated during his transition that he will follow through on that promise.
Israeli daily Israel Hayom on Thursday morning quoted Trump saying that he “did not forget” about the commitment he made as a candidate. “You know that I am not a person who breaks promises,” he said.
Spicer supplemented those remarks in his press conference, saying, “The president has made clear that Israel has not gotten the respect it deserves,” he said.
While past presidents like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also made the same embassy pledge on the trail, they did not deliver once they assumed the responsibilities of conducting foreign policy.
In 1995, Congress adopted a resolution, led by former House speaker and current Trump confidant Newt Gingrich, that called on the president to move the embassy. But each presidency since then has repeatedly used the prerogative granted to them to delay implementation of that demand.
The current waiver expires in May 2017.
Each president since then, including Obama, has maintained that the future status of Jerusalem should be settled in final negotiations between the parties, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the holy city as their rightful capital.
But Trump has indicated he will break with those practices. In December, he nominated longtime friend and attorney David Friedman to be the next US ambassador to Israel.
In a statement announcing the selection, Friedman, a vocal supporter and donor to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said he expected to carry out his duties in “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
There have been reports that Trump’s advisers are already in the process of planning the relocation. Campaign manager and soon-to-be White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has said it is “a very big priority for him.”
And earlier this month, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) proposed the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, which urges Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.