US President Barack Obama on Thursday renewed a presidential waiver, again delaying plans to relocate the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months.
In keeping with every other presidential administration over the last 20 years, a White House statement cited “national security interests” in waiving Congress’s 1995 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transfer its 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, since 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.