President Donald Trump will not use his upcoming trip to Israel to announce plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although he still ultimately wants to take that step, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the Trump administration does not want to complicate attempts to nurture a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by announcing the embassy move.At a commencement address in Connecticut on Wednesday, Trump made no mention of the issue in advance of his visit to the region next week, but stated that he did plan to “reaffirm his unbreakable alliance with the Jewish state.”His envoy Jason Greenblatt, who is already in the country, plans to hold talks with Palestinians and Israelis on Thursday as part of Trump’s plan to advance the peace process while in the region.To support that process the cabinet is expected to approve on Sunday a package of economic incentives for the Palestinians.US Ambassador David Friedman lowered expectations on what Trump might try to accomplish toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the president won’t unveil a specific “diplomatic plan” or “road map.”“The president has clarified that, to start with, he wants to see the parties sitting together and talking without preconditions, with the hope that this will lead to peace,” Friedman said in an interview with Israel Hayom, adding that the United States has not asked for a settlement freeze and the Palestinians have dropped that demand as a precondition for talks with Israel.“We have no demands for a settlement freeze and Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] wants to meet [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu without any preconditions,” Friedman said.
Trump’s policy on this issue is the opposite of his predecessor’s, asserted Friedman, adding that Trump does not believe that settlements are a stumbling block to peace.Trump is a skilled negotiator who can help both parties and reach an agreement, said Friedman. He is pragmatic, where his predecessors were more theoretical, the ambassador added.“It does not mean he can produce magic, but he can lead the parties to find common ground, at least in the first stage,” Friedman said.He added that unlike other American ambassadors, who remained within the Green Line, he plans to cross it, including making visits to West Bank settlements.On Tuesday, Trump spoke separately with Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu’s conversation with the president lasted for 20 minutes.Trump will travel first to Saudi Arabia and will arrive in Israel on Monday. He will also visit the Palestinian territories before leaving on Tuesday for Rome and then Belgium. Jordan is not on his itinerary.While in Israel, Trump will be the first president to visit the Western Wall, but according to the White House, Netanyahu will not be with him. The issue became contentious when US officials in Jerusalem reportedly told Israelis that the Western Wall is in the West Bank and is therefore not under Israeli sovereignty.US Ambassador to the UN Nikkey Haley rejected that assertion in an interview she gave the Christian Broadcasting Network.“The Western Wall is part of Israel, and I think that is how we have always seen it, and that is how we should pursue it,” Haley told CBN.But in Washington, when pressed on the matter on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer struck a different tone.“The Western Wall is obviously one of the holiest sites in the Jewish faith. It’s clearly in Jerusalem,” he told reporters.“It’s an issue that’s had serious consideration. It will be a topic that’s going to be discussed during the president’s trip between the parties that he meets with. I think this stems from a comment that was made yesterday and which was not the policy of the United States,” Spicer said.Haley also told CBN that she believes Trump should relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem.“The capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, because [Israel’s] government is in Jerusalem. So much of what goes on is in Jerusalem. We have to see that for what it is. The tricky part is where the Palestinians come in on this and where the Israelis comes in on this,” Haley said.“We know the Israelis do not want to give on Jerusalem at all, and we have to see how strong the Palestinians stand on that. That is your touchy part. Is Jerusalem even on the table? I don’t know that it is.”Separately, in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Netanyahu met with Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen and urged him to halt his government’s support for pro-Palestinian NGOs.Reuters contributed to this report.
Trump tells Israel to "hold back on settlements" during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)