Moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem 'Very Big Priority' for Trump, Senior Adviser Says

Issue is high on Trump's agenda, Kellyanne Conway says, reversing official U.S. State Department policy.

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., December 8, 2016.
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., December 8, 2016. Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, has stated that he is determined to transfer the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after he takes office on January 20.

"That is very big priority for this president-elect, Donald Trump," Conway said in a radio interview Monday. "He made it very clear during the campaign," she said, adding that she has heard him reiterate it on several occasions in private meetings since he was elected.

Conway said she believed Israel would greatly appreciate the president-elect's decision to move the embassy, as would many people in the American Jewish community.

The issue of the U.S. embassy being located in Tel Aviv goes back to just after the founding of Israel, and has been a major bone of contention throughout the years.

The official U.S. State Department policy is that the status of Jerusalem will only be determined in final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It does not recognize Jerusalem, even the westerns sections that were always under Israeli control, as the capital. The State Department officially considers Jerusalem to have never been under the sovereignty of any country since the British Mandate ended in 1948, and is waiting for the conclusion of final status negotiations.

Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 however, the United States is required to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999 - but it also offers the president an escape, if he signs a waiver twice a year based on "national security" concerns the move may be postponed.

Trump has promised on numerous occasions, including personally to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting in late September, to quickly move the embassy to Jerusalem. According to a Trump campaign press release, Trump told Netanyahu that if elected, "a Trump administration would finally accept the long-standing Congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel."

Trump is not the first presidential candidate to promise to move the embassy, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made similar promises, but once in office they signed the waiver required to avoid following through with the move.

Arab countries and the Palestinians are expected to react harshly if the United States does relocate its embassy, and while Israeli leaders regularly speak of the need to move it, they have avoided applying any real pressure on the Americans on the issue over the years.