Donald Trump will not move US embassy to Jerusalem 'for now'

US president signs waiver on 1995 legislation allowing him to delay decision on controversial campaign pledge for another six months 

Thursday 01 June 2017 15:52
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has encouraged US President Donald Trump to fulfill his campaign promise
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has encouraged US President Donald Trump to fulfill his campaign promise

US President Donald Trump has signed a waiver allowing him to delay any decision on moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - but his administration has said the move will go ahead.

A statement issued by the White House on Thursday, however, said that the president still intends to relocate the US' diplomatic seat in the country, and that the move was a question of "when not if".

The controversial election campaign promise was condemned by most of the international community, as well as Palestinians and liberal Israeli circles, which view Israel's annexation of the east side of the city as illegal.

Trump: Israelis and Palestinians are 'reaching for peace'

The holy city is claimed by both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict as their undisputed capital. Control of it remains one of the core issues preventing Palestinians and Israeli peace.

While many prominent Israeli politicians said they would welcome the fulfilment of Mr Trump's promise after his election in November, the new administration has continually equivocated over whether the move will take place. The relocation would upend decades of US policy by granting what would have been seen as de facto US recognition of Israel'€™s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital.

In January Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote to his US counterpart to warn him that the symbolic move would trigger violence in the Territories - and perhaps the wider Middle East - describing the scenario as potentially "opening the gates of hell."

Israeli media has reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet has met for special consultations with police, security services and the Israel Defence Force (IDF) in preparedness for “scenarios of worsening violence” if the US does move its embassy to the city.

“Though Israel is disappointed that the embassy will not move at this time, we appreciate today's expression of President Trump'€™s friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future,” Mr Netanyahu's office said in response to the delay.

US Congress ruled in 1995 that the US embassy should be relocated to Jerusalem, but every sitting president has stopped the legislation by signing a waiver delaying its implementation every six months.

Thursday June 1 was the last possible day for Mr Trump to decide whether to sign the waiver or not.

"While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act... 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," a statement fro the White House said.

"As he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when."

Many presidential candidates have made similar pledges in the past to appeal to right-wing Jewish voters, but none have followed through during their administrations.

During Mr Trump's visit to Israel and the West Bank last month the president reiterated his sincere desire to broker a peace deal in the decades-long conflict. He did not, however, offer any insights into new policy, nor did he address the issue of the embassy move.

However, both the Israelis and the Palestinians sought to portray the move by Mr Trump as directly affecting moves for peace.

Mr Netanyahu's office said it believes all embassies should be in what it called Israel's “eternal capital.”

“Maintaining embassies outside the capital drives peace further away by helping keep alive the Palestinian fantasy that the Jewish people and the Jewish state have no connection to Jerusalem,” a statement said.

As for the Palestinians, they praised the move for ensuring that peace efforts have a chance. Mr Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, called the decision is an “important positive step” that illustrates the US seriousness about promoting peace.

The Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Hussam Zomlot, said the move “gives peace a chance.”

“We are ready to start the consultation process with the US administration," Mr Zomlot said. "We are serious and genuine about achieving a just and lasting peace.”

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