It’s now official: President Trump has reneged (at least temporarily) on his campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, its capital city.
In a statement to the press, the White House said that President Trump signed a waiver to delay the move for at least six months. The waiver was signed to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”
However, the Office of the Press Secretary said the president remained committed to eventually moving the embassy. “The question is not if that move happens, but only when,” the statement said.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (passed by Congress) requires by law that the American embassy in Israel is moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but each president since then has continued to sign six-month waivers delaying the process.
By signing the waiver, President Trump has ignored the constituents who elected him and appears to have bowed to the pressure from his “shallow state” advisers in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Defense Secretary James Mattis.
The trio reportedly convinced the president that moving the embassy would unnecessarily inflame tensions with America’s Arab allies. By taking the backseat approach in letting Middle Eastern autocracies blackmail the United States into capitulating to foreigners’ demands, the Cabinet officials appear to have endorsed President Obama’s “lead from behind” doctrine.
Proponents of the move argue that not moving the embassy is a major strategic error that only empowers America’s adversaries and damages Israel’s standing in the world. It is unclear how forcing a Palestinian state upon America’s most loyal Middle East ally is consistent with an “America-first” policy rooted in “principled realism.”
The predominant political factions in the Palestinian territories are Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist organization) and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah (which supports suicide terrorists and their families with monthly stipends). Therefore, a near-future Palestinian state would almost certainly become an adversarial nation that promotes and finances Islamic terrorism.
Leaving the president’s pro-Israel rhetoric aside (he has promised to restore the “unshakeable bond” between the two nations), actual U.S. policy on the Jewish state remains unchanged from the Obama administration. The Trump administration currently fails to recognize Jerusalem — or the Jewish holy sites within it — as part of Israel.
Trump’s maneuver comes the same week that Israel marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War that resulted in the liberation of Jerusalem from occupying Jordanian forces. Since 1967, Israel has maintained control over Jerusalem. The Palestinians never controlled Jerusalem, but claim that it is their territory and that Israelis are the “occupiers.”
Responding to the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is “disappointed” in Trump’s decision to hold off on the move.
"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 said. On the positive side, Netanyahu stated his appreciation for “today's expression of President Trump's friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future."
On the campaign trail, the president promised to “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people: Jerusalem.” But 132 days into his presidency, Mr. Trump has not started the process.