February 28, 2020
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Trump decides to keep U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, at least for now

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump boards Air Force One to travel to Rome from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 23, 2017.

President Donald Trump will not move to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from secular Tel Aviv to the capital Jerusalem, at least for now, reversing a campaign promise dear to some of his most conservative supporters.

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.”

Arab governments and many U.S. officials have long argued that a move could incite violence because of the symbolism of placing the U.S. diplomatic headquarters in a city claimed as a religious capital by Jews and Arabs.

Successive U.S. administrations have maintained that the status of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations. The Israeli government supports relocating the embassy.

Presidents have issued similar waivers every six months since the law was passed, always claiming that the move cannot be made now without risking damage to U.S. security interests. Past presidents have also argued that the law is an infringement on the president’s power to make foreign policy. The deadline was June 1 for Trump’s first decision on whether to seek a waiver.

As a candidate, Trump promised to make the move, which he called a sign of unwavering U.S. support for Israel, on his first day in office. One of Trump’s prominent backers, wealthy Jewish businessman Sheldon Adelson, is among the most vocal proponents of moving the embassy.

American Jewish leaders on the political right generally favor moving the embassy, while those on the left advise against it.

Trump did not discuss the issue publicly when he visited Israel last month. He also met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who opposes the move as a sign that the United States has sided with Israel on the sensitive question of sovereignty over sacred ground.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month that Trump was taking a “measured” approach to the decision.

“He wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine,” Tillerson said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “I think in large measure the president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process.”

Trump’s advisers have been divided about the move, with strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly a main advocate for making the move. Trump’s newly installed ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was also on record as supporting a relocated embassy “in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem,” before he was confirmed by the Senate.

In an interview in February with the newspaper Israel Hayom, which is owned by Adelson, Trump appeared to signal that he was rethinking his views on the move.

“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.”

Addressing the pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last year, then-candidate Trump said he would “move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

“We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel,” Trump said then.

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