President Donald Trump speaks at inauguration ceremonies swearing him in as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the US Capitol in Washington, US, January 20, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration has begun deliberations over whether to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Sunday.
"We are the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject," Spicer said in a statement.
One adviser to US President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway, has said it is a top priority for the new administration, which took office just three days ago.
Conway said that Middle East peace would be a topic of conversation in Trump's first phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, taking place this hour.
Palestinians protest against Trump's statement on moving embassy to Jerusalem
Any decision to break with the status quo is likely to prompt protests from US allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Washington relies on those countries for help in fighting the Islamic State militant group, which the new US president has said is a priority.
The US Congress passed a law in 1995 describing Jerusalem as capital of Israel and saying it should not be divided, but successive Republican and Democratic presidents have used their foreign policy powers to maintain the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and to back negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem.
In early December, then-President Barack Obama renewed the presidential waiver until the beginning of June. It is unclear whether Trump would be able to legally override that waiver and go ahead with relocation of the embassy.
US diplomats say that, despite the US legislation, Washington's foreign policy is in practice broadly aligned with that of the United Nations and other major powers, which do not view Jerusalem as Israel's capital and do not recognize Israel's annexation of Arab East Jerusalem after its capture in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel approved building permits on Sunday for hundreds of homes in east Jerusalem in expectation that Trump will row back on the previous administration's criticism of such projects.
Reuters contributed to this article.