Israel ‘disappointed’ with Trump for not moving embassy to Jerusalem
Government ministers upset by US decision to sign waiver; opposition parties and liberal US-Jewish groups welcome prioritizing the peace process
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was “disappointed” with US President Donald Trump’s decision not to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for now, saying that despite Trump’s declared peace-making intentions, delaying the relocation “drives peace further away.”
“Israel’s consistent position is that the American embassy, like the embassies of all countries with whom we have diplomatic relations, should be in Jerusalem, our eternal capital,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement after Trump backtracked on a key promise he made on the campaign trail throughout 2016 by signing a waiver which pushes off moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for at least another six months.
“Maintaining embassies outside the capital drives peace further away by helping keep alive the Palestinian fantasy that the Jewish people and the Jewish state have no connection to Jerusalem,” the statement said.
However, Netanyahu took pains to temper the criticism of Trump and maintain the close rapport seen during Trump’s visit to Israel last month.
“Though Israel is disappointed that the embassy will not move at this time, we appreciate today’s expression of President Trump’s friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future,” the statement noted.
Announcing that Trump had signed the waiver earlier Thursday, the White House insisted the decision did not represent a weakening of his support for Israel.
“No one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance,” the White House statement said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also expressed his disappointment in a statement, saying, “I regret President Trump’s decision to sign the waiver but am certain that he will keep his word and bring the US embassy to its rightful place – Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. I will continue to provide assistance to the US administration and do all I can to ensure that the relocation happens as soon as possible.”
Other ministers from the governing coalition were more critical.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party said that delaying the embassy move would harm prospects for peace.
“There can be no peace based on the division of Jerusalem,” his spokesman said. “Delaying the US Embassy move will in fact have an opposite effect and damage the prospect of a lasting peace by nurturing false expectations among the Palestinians regarding the division of Jerusalem, which will never happen.”
“Only recognizing a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty will end illusions and pave the way to a sustainable peace with our neighbors,” he said.
Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), in his capacity as minister for Jerusalem affairs, posted on Facebook that he was disappointed that Trump signed the waiver.
“I am disappointed with President Trump’s decision. He promised his voters that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, but did not fulfill [his promise],”he said.
He called on the US president to announce that he would move the embassy at the next earliest opportunity.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (also Likud) affirmed that “President Trump is a true friend of Israel,” before criticizing the decision to leave the embassy in Tel Aviv.
“Precisely because of this,” Levin said, “there is very great disappointment over him not moving the embassy. This is not the way to make America great again,” he said, quoting Trump’s campaign slogan.
Opposition leaders and liberal US-Jewish groups were more supportive of Trump’s decision.
Opposition head, Isaac Herzog, said that “moving the US embassy, and all other embassies, to Jerusalem, is absolutely necessary.”
“Unfortunately Netanyahu learned today another lesson, that there are no shortcuts and anyone who wants international recognition must first reach a courageous political solution,” he said. “I hope that in another 50 years Netanyahu will also grasp what Trump understood.”
MK Zehava Galon, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, welcomed the development.
“The decision is right at this time. The White House is indicating that the Trump administration is trying to create a process with the Palestinians,” she tweeted. “West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and will be so with or without the embassy. Moving it will not enshrine sovereignty. If anything, it would only push more states to recognize the Palestinian state.”
J Street, a liberal pro-Israel lobbying group, also welcomed the decision.
“We are glad that the administration has heeded the advice of veteran officials in the diplomatic and security communities, and decided to maintain the prudent policy of its predecessors on this issue,” the group said in a statement.
The White House said the president still stood by his promise to move the embassy.
“President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests. But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when,” it said.
“It’s a question of when, not if,” an official said, adding that Trump “doesn’t think the timing is right, right now.” The official added: “In timing such a move, he will seek to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The president had distanced himself from the pledge since taking office and had been evasive on whether he would go ahead with the move.
He made no public mention of the embassy during his visit last week to Israel.
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.