WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump is expected to sign a waiver that would keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv, White House and diplomatic sources said on Wednesday, a day before a deadline for the waiver is set to expire just before midnight on Thursday.
Signing the waiver would delay for another six months any relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a key promise Trump made on the campaign trail throughout 2016. The president has distanced himself from the pledge since taking office and has been evasive on whether he would go ahead with the move.
A 1995 law mandates the relocation of the embassy, but provides the president with the prerogative to postpone the move on national security grounds. Each of Trump’s three immediate predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — repeatedly exercised that right.
The most recent waiver, signed by Obama, expires on June 1. If it is not signed by then, the US government will be legally obligated to proceed with moving the embassy.
A senior White House official told CNN Wednesday that Trump was still in favor of the move but wanted to push for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and feared it would anger the Palestinians.
Another administration official said the decision to sign the waiver was not yet final and that paperwork both to move the embassy to Jerusalem and to keep it in Tel Aviv had been presented to the president.
That person added that even should Trump keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for now, he may act to move it to Jerusalem in the future.
A relocation of the US embassy is “something the president supports, something he supported during the campaign, something he still supports,” the official told CNN. “If he signs the waiver this week, that will not be indicative of him reversing his opinion, it will just be a question of timing. It will be when, not if.”
“The question is does making this move prejudice” the peace process, the official added. “But it is a fact that the Israeli government’s institutions are in Jerusalem … and the typical definition of a capital is where this government is headquartered.”
Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, a move never recognized by the international community. Israel declared the city its undivided capital, but the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be seen as endorsing Israel’s claim to the city and rejecting the Palestinian’s. Countries with ties to Israel typically place their embassies in Tel Aviv and some have consulates in Jerusalem.
There was intense speculation earlier this month that Trump would use the visit to Israel — which came just before Jerusalem Day, when Israel commemorated 50 years since the Six Day War — to announce the move, something he had repeatedly pledged to do as a candidate.
He seemingly backed off his promise early in his presidency. It was reported that his conversation with various Arab leaders, especially King Abdullah II of Jordan at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, was instrumental to his decision to put the issue on the back burner.
Arab leaders have reportedly told Trump — as well as other members of his administration — that an embassy move at this time would spark unrest in the region while making it difficult for their countries to play a helpful role in the peace process.
Days before he left for the region, which included his stopping first in Saudi Arabia, a senior administration official confirmed to The Times of Israel that Trump would not move forward with his campaign promise “immediately” but that “a final decision hadn’t been made.”
Another official told Bloomberg: “We don’t think it would be wise to do it at this time. We’ve been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done, but we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”
On May 24, the day after Trump left Israel after a 28-hour visit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his call for the US, and all other countries which have ties with Israel, to move their embassies to Jerusalem. It was “absurd” that foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said.
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