On Wednesday morning Israeli media outlets released conflicting reports concerning President Donald Trump’s intentions to relocate the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Renewing the current waiver (which expires June 1) and failing to move the embassy would break a signature campaign promise. Then candidate-Trump promised repeatedly to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Reporting for Israel Hayom (NRG), the Israeli daily newspaper with the nation’s largest circulation, Ariel Kahana said, “United States President Donald Trump has decided to sign the waiver delaying the contentious move of relocating the country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sources have told nrg. The decision has been relayed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s policy has thus been dealt a serious blow.”
Following Kahana’s reporting, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office denied receiving notice that President Trump has decided not to honor his campaign pledge and move the embassy. In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said: “Israel’s position is that all embassies, particularly the US embassy, should be in Israel’s capital- Jerusalem.”
The conflicting reports come two weeks before President Trump will make his first visit as President to Israel on May 22-23.
During the 2016 presidential election then candidate-Trump campaigned on an unapologetically pro-Israel platform. In his speech to the influential pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on March 21, 2016, Trump promised, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem. And we will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between American and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.”
Despite the pledge, a shift in rhetoric has taken place since the President’s inauguration. Earlier this year (Feb. 10) when asked directly in an interview where his administration stood on moving the embassy Trump said, “I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy [issue], and we will see what happens. The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision. I’m thinking about it very seriously, and we will see what happens.”
For a President who promised bold and courageous leadership, reneging on this promise would be viewed as a major disappointment for pro-Israel backers and voters who resonated with Trump’s strongly articulated foreign policy positions concerning Israel.
In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which states: “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected; Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” Despite nearly unanimous support in Congress (the law was adopted by the Senate 93-5 and the House 374-37), Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama signed waivers to delay the move, citing security concerns.
The current waiver was signed by President Obama in October 2016. If President Trump does not renew the waiver on June 1, the law would automatically trigger the embassy move.