Donald Trump’s campaign promise to order the American embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a “very big priority” for the president-elect, top aide Kellyanne Conway said Monday.
“That is very big priority for this president-elect, Donald Trump,” Conway told radio host Hugh Hewitt in a lengthy interview discussing Trump’s transition to the White House. “He made it very clear during the campaign, and as president-elect, I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly.”
During the 2016 election, Trump pledged to end a longstanding White House policy to perpetually defer a 1995 Congressional decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move the embassy there.
“It is something that our friend Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish-Americans have expressed their preference for,” Conway said. “It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the soundbites.”
She went on to say that Trump’s commitment to Israel would be an integral aspect of his administration’s policies, along with the domestic agendas that he emphasized in his campaign.
“People think it’s just marriage, abortion or religious liberties, and of course its about all that, but it’s also about a strong Middle East and about protecting Israel,” she said. “Evangelical Christians always have Israel at the top of their list when you ask what’s most important to them.”
Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama renewed a presidential waiver that again delayed plans to relocate the embassy for another six months.
In keeping with every other presidential administration over the last 20 years, Obama cited “national security interests” in waiving Congress’s 1995 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there.
Every president since Bill Clinton has cited national security in presidential waivers signed every six months that have postponed the embassy’s relocation.
The US has been reluctant to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, and the CIA World Factbook notes that “ while Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, the international community does not recognize it as such; the US, like all other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv-Yafo.”
The most often cited argument against Washington recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and moving its embassy, is that such a move should only come after the successful conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The status of Jerusalem is subject to bilateral negotiations, diplomats generally argue, and relocating the embassy as a gesture to Israel before a final-status agreement is signed would greatly anger Palestinians and the larger Arab world, sending an already moribund peace process to its certain death.
But Trump, who campaigned with the promise to do things differently, could throw the longstanding policy out of the window.
During a March address to AIPAC, Trump said he intended to “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” In a television interview that month Trump assured the move would happen “fairly quickly.”
However, shortly after Trump’s November 8 victory, Walid Phares, one of his foreign policy advisers, appeared to walk back the pledge to relocate the embassy.
“Many presidents of the United States have committed to do that, and he said as well that he will do that, but he will do it under consensus,” Phares said, causing some confusion. He later clarified that he meant “consensus at home,” yet what he means by that is still somewhat murky, as there is broad bipartisan support in Congress for moving the embassy.
Earlier this year, Republican senators proposed legislation that would force the president to change the longstanding policy and move the US embassy. The proposed legislation strikes the language in the 1995 Embassy Act that allows the delay for national security reasons.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.