Minister says Trump sounds like Obama on conflict with Palestinians
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Trump 'still talking 'Obamanese,' says Likud minister

Minister says Trump sounds like Obama on conflict with Palestinians

On eve of US president’s expected decision to sign waiver, Ze’ev Elkin ‘disappointed’ over reported decision not to move embassy to Jerusalem

Then president-elect Donald Trump with then president Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Washington DC on November 10, 2016 (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Then president-elect Donald Trump with then president Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Washington DC on November 10, 2016 (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

A senior minister from the ruling Likud party on Thursday said that he was “disappointed” by reports that US President Donald Trump is expected to sign a waiver delaying moving the US embassy to Jerusalem despite promising to do so during the campaign, adding that Trump sounds like former president Barack Obama when talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I was not surprised. I was disappointed,” Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Israel Radio. “It was already pretty clear when [Trump] did not declare this during his visit to Israel. Disappointing.”

Elkin, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that while Trump’s foreign policy is “completely” different from Obama’s, the US president is still singing the same tune as his predecessor when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Trump completely changed the [foreign policy] direction of the previous administration. The only subject [on which he] continues Obama’s policies somewhat is toward the Palestinians,” he said.

“[Trump] is still talking ‘Obamanese,’ on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Elkin told Channel 10 in a separate interview on Thursday.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze'ev Elkin, speaks during a press conference at the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem on March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, speaks during a press conference at the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem on March 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Speaking with Army Radio, Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) said that while moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be an “important symbolic step for US foreign policy,” Israel will wait patiently if Trump ends up signing the waiver.

“We will wait. We waited 69 years, we will wait 70 years,” he said.

On Wednesday, White House and diplomatic sources said Trump would sign the waiver, which is set to expire just before midnight on Thursday.

Signing the waiver would allow another six-month delay of the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a key promise Trump made on the campaign trail throughout 2016. The president has distanced himself from the pledge since taking office and has been evasive on whether he would go ahead with the move.

A 1995 law mandates the relocation of the embassy, but provides the president with the prerogative of postponing the move on national security grounds. Each of Trump’s three immediate predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — repeatedly exercised that right.

The most recent waiver, signed by Obama, expires on June 1. If it is not signed by then, the US government will be legally obligated to proceed with moving the embassy.

US President Donald Trump seen after the departure of the Vietnamese prime minister from the White House on May 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump seen after the departure of the Vietnamese prime minister from the White House on May 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

A senior White House official told CNN Wednesday that Trump was still in favor of the move but wanted to push for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and feared it would anger the Palestinians.

Another administration official said the decision to sign the waiver was not yet final and that paperwork both to move the embassy to Jerusalem and to keep it in Tel Aviv had been presented to the president.

That person added that even should Trump keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for now, he may act to move it to Jerusalem in the future.

A relocation of the US embassy is “something the president supports, something he supported during the campaign, something he still supports,” the official told CNN. “If he signs the waiver this week, that will not be indicative of him reversing his opinion, it will just be a question of timing. It will be when, not if.”

“The question is does making this move prejudice” the peace process, the official added. “But it is a fact that the Israeli government’s institutions are in Jerusalem … and the typical definition of a capital is where this government is headquartered.”

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, a move never recognized by the international community. Israel declared the city its undivided capital, but 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’s. Countries with ties to Israel typically place their embassies in Tel Aviv and some have consulates in Jerusalem.

There was intense speculation earlier this month that Trump would use the visit to Israel — which came just before Jerusalem Day, when Israel commemorated 50 years since the Six Day War — to announce the move.

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)

He seemingly backed off his promise early in his presidency. It was reported that his conversation with various Arab leaders, especially King Abdullah II of Jordan at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, was instrumental in his decision to put the issue on the back burner.

Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

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