The co-chair of the Republicans Overseas organization in Israel, Marc Zell, says that recent foot-dragging by Donald Trump's White House on moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, is happening at Israel’s request.
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Zell told Haaretz, citing both Israeli and U.S. sources, that “Trump has been unequivocally in favor of moving the embassy and remains so” but “he is proceeding cautiously because of concerns raised by Israeli officials.”
Zell, who spearheaded the Trump election effort in Israel and attended last week’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. added, however, that he was confident the embassy move would eventually happen.
“Trump has repeatedly stated that his Administration will respect the wishes of the Israeli government and people on issues concerning the Land of Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular,” Zell said on Saturday evening.
“There is no better evidence of this than Washington's historic non-reaction last week to Israel's announcement that it will be constructing 2500 housing units in Judea & Samaria I believe Israel will give the green light to the embassy move and when it does, the embassy will come to Jerusalem.”
Zell’s comments came in the wake of a Tweet he posted on Friday criticizing the Israeli government on its lack of “backbone” for not pushing that the embassy be moved.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Both he and his surrogates, particularly when campaigning in the Jewish community and among U.S. voters in Israel, stressed that unlike past presidents from both parties, he would keep his commitment and actually do it.
Expectations ran high last week, when, on January 19, the day before inauguration Sean Spicer, then President-elect Donald Trump's press secretary, told a press conference that an announcement on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is "coming soon" and encouraged journalists to "stay tuned." That same morning, a report ran in the Sheldon Adelson-owned newspaper Israel Hayom that Trump "hasn't forgotten" his campaign pledge to move the embassy.
Two days later, on Sunday, Trump and Netanyahu spoke by telephone. The topic of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem wasn’t mentioned either in the statement released by the Prime Minister's Office or in the one published by the White House, and there has been no indication as to whether or not the subject will be on the agenda when the two leaders meet in February.
Ever since the phone call, it seems as if the brakes have been put on any plans to announce an embassy move, if the signals from the White House are any indication.
On Monday, Spicer told reporters at a White House briefing that the administration was only "at the very beginning stages of even discussing" an embassy move. By Tuesday, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, believed to be close to both Trump and his chief of staff Reince Priebus cited a source in the administration as saying “they are not going to move on Jerusalem for quite some time.”
Palestinian sources also told Haaretz that the move was no longer high on Trump's agenda.
Trump himself shut down the subject in an interview on Fox News on Thursday night, saying abruptly that "I don't want to talk about it yet. It's too early."
The Israeli media has reported that intelligence assessments suggest a transferring of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem could lead to a renewed escalation of violence. This has led to widespread speculation that there could be discussion underway of alternate interim and compromise solutions, such as transferring the ambassador’s residence to Jerusalem and/or merely laying a cornerstone for a new embassy compound in Jerusalem, the completion and population of which will be stretched out over years.
In the meantime, Trump’s designated ambassador, David Friedman, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem, could live there and work out of the existing U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem or in another location in the Israeli capital.