Trump Admin Will Not Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in Bid to Restart Peace Talks

Trump focusing on fostering peace, does not want to upset Palestinians

The Old City in Jerusalem / Getty Images
June 1, 2017

President Donald Trump has decided not to immediately move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, according to an announcement by the White House that is sure to rile the administration's pro-Israel supporters, who were counting on Trump to uphold one of his most oft-repeated campaign promises.

The White House announced early Thursday that Trump had signed a presidential waiver to keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv for at least another six months. This waiver has been issued by every U.S. president since Congress passed a 1995 law mandating that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, Israel's contested capital city.

Senior administration officials told the Washington Free Beacon that Trump remains "committed" to ultimately relocating the U.S. embassy, but has decided to hold off in the short term in order to appease the Palestinians—who also claim the ancient city as their own—and try to make progress in Middle East peace talks.

The announcement puts the administration in a tricky position, as Trump promised multiple times while campaigning for the presidency that he would immediately move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump's most prominent pro-Israel supporters saw the promise as a cornerstone of his commitment to the Jewish state, but the latest decision is certain to add fuel to ongoing concerns among these supporters that Trump is walking back his pro-Israel promises.

Pro-Israel officials in Washington, D.C., have quietly begun to express frustration with the Trump administration in recent weeks following a series of controversies over the administration's position on moving the embassy, as well as the refusal by some senior officials to say that Jewish holy sites are located in Israel proper.

The delay in moving the embassy prompted some to compare Trump's Israel policy to that of the Obama administration, which centered around pressuring Israel to make concessions aimed at fostering peace.

One senior administration official familiar with the situation told the Free Beacon that Trump is trying to foster good will with the Palestinians as he pursues efforts to get both parties back to the negotiating table.

"The president is committed to moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—the only thing he wants more is to actually make concrete progress on the Palestinian issue so he's considering the timing in that context," said the official, who was only authorized to speak on background. "The location of the embassy is important but reaching a resolution with the Palestinians would be even more important to Israel's security."

Trump met during his recent visit to the Middle East with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders who expressed a willingness to engage in renewed peace talks, according to the official.

"Early interactions with both parties have been promising, so the administration wants maximum time and space to see what can be achieved," the official said.

The White House has sought to minimize the public relations damage caused by the announcement to not move the embassy.

In a statement issued just hours after Trump signed the waiver stopping the embassy move, the White House moved to reassure the pro-Israel community.

"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 statement reads.

Trump still desires to relocate the embassy, but does not want to make waves during a time when he feels peace talks are plausible.

"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," the White House said. "But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when."