What’s Really Behind Trump’s Hesitation to Move the Embassy to Jerusalem

December 3, 2017

4 min read

As President Donald Trump faces another deadline in the decision over whether to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, outside pressures may be acting to stop him from fulfilling his campaign promise, including from his cabinet, advisors, the UN Security Council, the Palestinians, and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Increased speculation surrounding Trump’s decision centers around reports that surfaced on Thursday claiming that amid strong Evangelical Christian pressure, the president had notified US embassies around the world that he plans to formally recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and relocate the embassy.

But just as quickly as reports surfaced, they were deemed ‘premature’ by a White House spokesman, who indicated Trump would again delay the move.

Mixed messages came from within the administration. Vice President Mike Pence, who is to travel to Israel in mid-December, said Tuesday that Trump is “actively considering when and how” to move the embassy. A Trump insider confirmed this, telling Breaking Israel News he believes the move will “be sooner rather than later.”

Vice President Mike Pence, February 23, 2017. (Michael Vadon/Flickr)

“The president has always said it is a matter of when, not if [the embassy will relocate to Jerusalem],” a White House spokesperson said in response to Thursday’s rumors. “The president is still considering options and we have nothing to announce.”

The reports surfaced in the context of the approaching waiver deadline on December 4 to decide whether the administration will again defer its campaign promise to move the embassy. Semi-annual waivers are mandated in compliance with the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 1995, requiring the moving of the US Embassy or clarification of why doing so would undermine US national security interests.

The cause for delay, however, does not originate with Trump, who is eager to make the move. According to a top Republican official, Trump wanted to move the embassy from the first minutes of his presidency, but decided against it out of fear of jeopardizing Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors.

According to the Washington Post, when President Trump’s senior national security aides convened at the White House on Monday to discuss the upcoming waiver deadline, Trump pushed strongly for the move and became “agitated and exasperated at what he saw as overly cautious bureaucratic hand-wringing.”

As it appears that the US President is eager to fulfill his campaign promise to move the embassy, below are the forces that may be pressuring him against this decision.

Cabinet and Advisors

Last June, it was reported that Trump “acted reluctantly” on advice from Cabinet heads that moving the embassy could pose security risks for Americans. His Cabinet and advisors also maintained that moving the embassy could prejudice the administration’s efforts to restart Mideast peace talks and negotiate a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, a key goal for the administration. In fact, Trump himself said in October that he wanted to “give peace a shot” before moving the embassy.

Rex Tillerson (Screenshot)

At Monday’s White House meeting, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly argued that moving the embassy could pose danger to American diplomats and troops in the Middle East.

Shortly after the meeting, a classified State Department memo sent to US embassies in the Mideast warned of potential unrest and anti-American protests related to an upcoming announcement concerning the embassy.

The Pentagon has also raised cautions about the security risk associated with any change in the embassy status.

UN Security Council Resolutions

Trump may also be constrained by legal matters that would prevent him from moving the embassy. Various UN Security Council resolutions have passed in opposition to Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, claiming the annexation of East Jerusalem was in violation of international law.

Various UN Security Council Resolutions, including 2253, 478, 123, 180, 476, 298, and 252 have condemned Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and claims of Jerusalem as Israel’s “complete and united” capital.

While the US has veto power in the Security Council and could thus block efforts to declare the US in violation of any efforts, using its veto power could mean undermining relations with some of its closest allies in the UN.

Palestinians and Their Arab Allies

While Israel calls Jerusalem its undivided capital after being annexed during the 1967 war, Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned of “potential fallout” from a move that would deny such claim to East Jerusalem.

Likewise, Jordanian King Abdullah II, who met with Pence and Tillerson this week, argued that an embassy change in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could ignite violence in the region and increase anti-American sentiment.

According to the Washington Post, “Trump seemed frustrated with pushback about the potential backlash among Palestinians and their supporters.”

When will Trump move the embassy? Vote now!

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

While many believe that Netanyahu naturally favors the embassy move, senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Officials reported in 2016 that the embassy issue was not his main concern.

More recently, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed that Israel may not want the US Embassy relocate at this time. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly disputed this claim, according to the Jerusalem Post, there is “wide-ranging speculation” that Netanyahu has hesitated on the embassy’s relocation, “possibly to not lose support for wider, behind-the-scenes alliances with moderate Arab states with regard to Iran.”

Trump insider Marc Zell, the chair of Republicans Overseas Israel, confirmed the report, telling Breaking Israel News, “Trump does not want to upset the Arabs who are potential coalition partners in undermining Iran. He has embraced the policy of trying to catalyze or facilitate the formation of a broad-based Middle Eastern coalition against Iran, including not only the Sunni Arab states but also Israel.

“There have been people here in Israel [who wished to remain anonymous] who urged the President to go slow in moving the embassy for the same reason,” he added.  

Even so, Zell maintained, “The President wants to move the embassy and he’s going to move the embassy. It’s only a matter of when-that’s going to be sooner than later in my opinion.”

Do you believe Donald Trump should move the embassy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Eternal Capital? Click here to sign the Jerusalem Covenant petition.

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