President Donald Trump has decided not to immediately move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a senior White House official said, violating a campaign promise but avoiding a provocation that could drive Palestinians away from peace talks.
The official said the administration considers its discussions with both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to be promising, with the Palestinians in particular agreeing to talk without preconditions. The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Trump said in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March 2016 that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, calling it “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” The city is claimed as a capital by both Jews and Palestinians, however, and relocating the U.S. embassy — essentially declaring Jerusalem to be Israeli territory — would raise tensions.
“We don’t think it would be wise to do it at this time,” the official said. “We’ve been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done, but we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it had no comment on the report.
As president, Trump has said he’d like to try to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, calling it “the ultimate deal.” He sent an envoy, Jason Greenblatt, to the region in March to open talks, and Trump has met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.Trump said at a news conference with Netanyahu in February that his administration was looking at moving the embassy “with great care.” Previous presidents including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush pledged to move the Israel embassy in their campaigns, only to abandon the promise in the face of political reality.
A move would also be costly: the US doesn’t own a facility in Jerusalem large enough to house its embassy, and would have to build a secure compound at considerable expense even as Trump seeks money for a military buildup, a border wall and infrastructure development.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Wednesday that he still believes Trump will make the move and that the US should simply change the plaque on its consulate in the city to designate it as the embassy.