In a move that is likely to disappoint many of his supporters, President Trump has decided to leave the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, rather than moving it to Jerusalem as promised. That is, it’s staying there for now at least.
As we reported back in January, Trump made plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem, a massive shift in foreign policy towards our most reliable Middle Eastern ally.
The move is controversial because it violates United Nations mandates. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, which was not recognized by the international community. Israel has long insisted that the city is its true capital, but publicly agreeing has been something the United States has never done. Under the UN Partition Plan of 1948, Jerusalem is an city under “international sovereignty.”
Those plans are now on hold though, as the Washington Post is reporting.
He signed a waiver to defer action on an embassy relocation mandated by Congress in 1995.
“While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance,” the White House said in a statement. “President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests. But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”
If anything, this seems to be a move that was weighed with the ongoing negotiation for peace between the Israelis and Arabs residing in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in the Six Day War in 1967, but many in the international community do not recognize this as legitimate; especially not the neighboring Arab nations.
The Israelis claim that Jerusalem is their rightful capital, but the Palestinian Authority and its residents claim that Jerusalem is their own territory. The fight over the area has been raging for decades (or centuries, if you count the Islamic conquests and subsequent campaigns sanctioned by the Catholic Church to rid the Islamic armies from the Holy Land) and is not likely to abate any time soon; especially if President Trump actually follows through on the promise to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
By moving the embassy to the contested capital, it establishes legitimacy of the Israeli claim to the city. The decision is thus more difficult than Trump led on. Back in February, he indicated that his thoughts on the move may be shifting.
“I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy, and we will see what happens,” Trump said. “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.”
Other presidents before him have signed similar waivers, each claiming that moving the embassy would damage national security interests. Given the complexity of the issue, Trump’s supporters on the one hand, and the intricately complex peace negotiations between the two Middle Eastern groups, he is in quite a predicament.
The plan is not dead though, but only time will tell if he can and/or will follow through on that promise.