US President Donald Trump refused to confirm reports that he would announce the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during a visit to Israel next month, but hinted Thursday that he may clarify the issue at that time.
On Thursday, Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis (R), who earlier this year led a one-man fact-finding trip to scout locations for the embassy, said Trump would announce the relocation when he visits Israel at the end of May, fulfilling a campaign promise he appeared to walk back after assuming office.
Asked about the relocation by Reuters, Trump demurred.
“Ask me in a month on that,” he told the news agency.
Trump also appeared to express frustration that Israelis and Palestinians continued to not have a peace deal, saying there was no reason for the conflict to persist.
“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”
Trump has said several times that he would work to broker an agreement to end the decades-old conflict, citing his business acumen and saying peace would be “the ultimate deal.”
He is due to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington early next month.
Trump had promised during his campaign to move the embassy, but has yet to follow through, with initial excitement in Israel dampening as the administration said it was only starting to explore the issue.
Following meetings with Arab leaders since taking office, and especially Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump said he would like to see the move take place eventually but that he wouldn’t go through with it right away.
Trump’s visit next month, from May 22-23 according to Israeli officials, will coincide with Jerusalem Day, which will mark the 50th anniversary since Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967 and the subsequent unification of the capital.
“What better time could there be to announce the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem than when you are over here celebrating with our Israeli friends this very important 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem?” DeSantis said.
The trip will also come a week before a waiver signed by predecessor Barack Obama pushing off the embassy relocation for security reasons will expire. Trump will have to decide at that point whether to extend the waiver another six months or let it lapse and move the embassy.
Congress passed a law, in 1995, mandating the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, but allowed the president to exercise a six-month waiver on national security grounds. Every president since, including Barack Obama’s predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, signed such a waiver every six months.
The embassy relocation would be a highly symbolic gesture, valued by Israel as confirmation of the city as its capital, but strongly opposed by Palestinians and the Arab world.
Trump’s pick to serve as US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was also highly vocal in his resolution that the president would move the embassy, saying in an announcement of his nomination that he expected to carry out his duties in Jerusalem.
Friedman is due to arrive in Jerusalem on May 15 and to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in June.