Trump faces deadline on Israel embassy move

Jerusalem silent as cutoff for embassy move deadline approaches; officials say PM raised issue with US president.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at Ben Gurion airport on May 23, 2017 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at Ben Gurion airport on May 23, 2017
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
US President Donald Trump is expected to back down from a campaign pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and sign a waiver that will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The official noted, however, that the final decision rests with the president.
Jerusalem was silent Wednesday regarding the deadline for signing the waiver, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his spokesmen have said repeatedly over the last few weeks that Jerusalem is in favor of moving the embassy.
Netanyahu did not, however, wage a high-profile public campaign to try and force Trump’s hand.
One source in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu has raised the issue with Trump who is fully supportive of it. “That doesn’t mean that we will get everything we want,” he added.
In presidential first, Trump prays at Jerusalem"s Western Wall (credit: REUTERS)
If the decision is made not to move the embassy at this time, it is not because Israel did not make clear what it wanted, the official said.
A 1995 law compelling the US State Department to relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem requires action from Trump on Thursday.
Every president since 1995 has – with little fanfare and publicity – signed the waiver at six month intervals.
This year, the issue has taken on a much higher profile because of Trump’s campaign promise to move the embassy.
According to the Jerusalem Embassy Act, the administration in power must either confirm a new embassy has opened in the ancient city or declare that such a move would compromise “the national security interests of the United States.”
Updates are required every six months, and June 1 is the latest deadline – the first of Trump’s presidency. The requirement forces Trump’s hand because he campaigned for the White House on a vow to relocate the US embassy in Israel with haste.
Since taking office, however, Trump has demurred. He announced a review of the consequences such a move would have on US assets and personnel in the region, on America’s role as a broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace and on the delicate security environment on the ground.
Trump hopes to jump start direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians over the next several months, leaning on regional Arab support. But Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian leaders warned him in recent months that moving the embassy would compromise his effort, as have several of the president’s closest advisers.
This effort – spearheaded by US envoy Jason Greenblatt – entails asking Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world to take steps to significantly change the atmosphere.
Israel will be asked to transfer land in northern Samaria that is currently under its military and civilian control, an area known under the Oslo accords as Area C, to Palestinian civil control, while retaining security responsibility.
In addition, the US also reportedly has raised the idea of Israel turning a blind eye to some 20,000 illegal structures the Palestinians have erected in Area C and against which there are more than 10,000 demolition orders.
The Palestinians are being asked to stop paying monthly salaries to terrorists sitting inIsraeli jails and their families. And the US is trying to get Saudi Arabia to make some gestures toward Israel, such as allowing Israeli planes to fly over Saudi airspace. The Saudis have been very vocal in expressing their opposition to an embassy move.
Since the Jerusalem Embassy Act went into force, presidents have routinely issued basic waivers, declining to include lengthy explanations for the delay. Trump may choose to break from this tradition and release an addendum letter that details his thinking.
While a waiver is required every six months, this deadline coincides with several celebrations of Jerusalem Day on Capitol Hill – the 50th anniversary since Israel united the city under its control. Congress and the Knesset will hold a joint event marking the event on June 6.
A Palestine Liberation Organization official lambasted Congress’s push to recognize Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem in a statement issued Wednesday.
“It is an irrefutable fact that Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem is illegal and in direct contravention of international law, signed agreements and terms of reference of the peace process,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO executive committee member. “By undertaking such provocative measures, the United States Congress is singularly contravening longstanding American policy and becoming party to Israel’s egregious violation of international law and international humanitarian law.”
“The US Congress is becoming complicit in Israel’s criminality,” she added.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.