US President Donald Trump surprised aides and top advisers this week when he pushed for action on his campaign promise to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Washington Post reported over the weekend.
According to the report, national security aides had expected the president to reluctantly sign the waiver, once again postponing the embassy move as he had in June.
But at a meeting to discuss the periodic waiver, the president, anxious to follow through on his pledge, reportedly grew “agitated and exasperated” by those advising against hasty action.
Trump’s June decision is thought to have been influenced by discussions with Arab leaders — notably King Abdullah II of Jordan — as well as his own efforts to advance the peace process.
However, the president had become impatient and “frustrated” with the cautious wing of his advisory panel, and wanted to show he was taking action. Thus, apparently, was born a reported compromise through which Trump will sign the waiver — he has until Monday to do so — while formally acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a step towards future relocation.
According to the Washington Post, the State Department has notified its embassies in the Middle East to expect unrest following a speech by the president later this week concerning the embassy.
Speculation about what the president will do has intensified since multiple reports surfaced this week that he would either order his team to prepare to relocate the embassy, or delay the relocation again but formally declare that he recognizes the holy city as Israel’s capital. Axios reported on Friday that Trump will give a speech Wednesday in which he makes that latter declaration — a claim the administration did not confirm.
On Tuesday, US Vice President Mike Pence said Trump “is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” He spoke at a UN event in New York commemorating the 70th anniversary of the UN vote for partition of Palestine, which led to the creation of the State of Israel.
Other reports, including one on Israel’s Channel 10 News, said that there was internal squabbling in the White House about what course of action to ultimately take.
Aaron David Miller, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator in multiple US administrations, said that if Trump is going to make so dramatic a move as declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital, he wouldn’t want to do so quietly on a weekend.
“I would think he wants maximum publicity on this,” Miller told The Times of Israel. “For him, this is a big deal: This is showing that, ‘I’m not Obama, I’m the most pro-Israeli president in modern history. And it’s another first. I was the first president to visit Israel so early in my term. I was the first president to pray at the Western Wall’ …. This would be the ultimate first.”
Declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be a highly controversial move, with the potential to spark unrest in the Middle East.
A presidential declaration could also risk producing an angry response from the Palestinians and other Arab allies like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, just as the Trump White House is preparing to move forward with its attempts to broker a Mideast peace accord.
The Palestinians on Friday warned that such a move would lead to violence, end the peace process, and lead to regional instability.
Israel says Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish state, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
A 1995 law requires the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but provides the president with the prerogative to postpone the move every six months on national security grounds.
Each of Trump’s three immediate predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — repeatedly exercised that right. Trump, for his part, signed the waiver when faced with his first deadline in June.
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.