Israel Believes Trump Will Not Seek to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem for Now, Officials Say

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U.S. President Donald Trump, right, looks towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, looks towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017.Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Israel believes that U.S. President Donald Trump will not seek to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem at this time, despite his possible visit to the country in a few weeks, senior Israeli officials with knowledge of the issue told Haaretz. 

In an interview with Reuters overnight, Trump was asked about moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Trump avoided answering the question, saying: "Ask me in a month on that."

Trump also told Reuters that, “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians - none whatsoever.”

>> Abbas believes 'historic opportunity' for peace under Trump, says Palestinian envoy <<

Since a law mandating a move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was passed in Congress in the mid-1990s, all U.S. presidents have signed a waiver postponing the law's implementation every six months, citing national security reasons. The waiver, which President Barack Obama signed about a month before leaving office, is due to expire at the end of May. 

The senior Israeli figures, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Israel believes the president will not depart from U.S. policy for now and will sign the presidential waiver at the end of May.

During his election campaign, Trump said repeatedly that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, but postponed the move after coming into office. One reason was pressure by several Arab countries on the White House as well as Israeli concerns that the move would escalate security tensions.

Ahead of a possible visit by Trump to Israel around the same time as events marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, many on the Israeli and the American right said they hoped the president would use the occasion to announce that he would not sign the waiver, therefore enabling the embassy move. On Thursday, at an event in Washington, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis said the timing of the president’s visit is not coincidental and he believed Trump was signaling his intention to realize his election promise and bring the embassy to Jerusalem.

But senior Israeli figures say that it is highly likely that Trump will renew the current presidential waiver, postponing a decision on the matter for at least another six months. The president is not likely to use the potential upcoming visit to change policy, the senior figures said. They added that Trump wants to try to jump-start the peace process with the Palestinians and a decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem could significantly compromise such an attempt. 

The new American ambassador, David Friedman, is expected to arrive in Israel on May 15. A senior Israeli official said that in light of the possible presidential visit, the Americans have asked that the date of Friedman’s presentation of his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin be moved up so that he will have officially taken up his post in time for the American president’s arrival in Israel.

An American delegation landed in Israel Thursday to begin preparations for a possible Trump visit. According to a senior Israeli official, the Americans said during talks on Thursday in Jerusalem with officials from the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the President’s Residence that the White House is considering May 22 as a possible date for the visit.

During Thursday’s talks, the Americans said the visit is not certain. They said a final decision had not been made on the matter and that preliminary preparations of the type they were making at this time did not necessarily indicate that the visit would take actually take place. They said they were only at the preliminary stages of putting such a visit together.

If the visit does happen, Trump would land in Israel on May 22 at 11 A.M. and leave 26 hours later, on May 23 at 1 P.M. Trump is expected to come with a large entourage including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. The members of the American delegation said that one option was that Trump would also go to the Palestinian Authority during his lightening visit. 

If the visit takes place, Trump is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Rivlin, visit Yad Vashem and make a speech, although the speech would not be given at the Knesset because the visit is not defined as a state visit. The American delegation is scheduled on Friday to visit the sites Trump is likely to go to while in Israel, such as the Western Wall, the Old City, Masada and the Allenby Bridge crossing on the border with Jordan.

Talks on a potential Trump visit to Israel come about a week before the U.S. president’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. The meeting with Abbas comes after Trump held a series of meetings with Netanyahu and leaders of Arab countries, discussing among other things restarting the peace process and achieving a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

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