WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he is holding back his plan to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem because he wants to give his plans for achieving a peace agreement in the Middle East a chance first.
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While such an explanation has been offered before by Trump administration officials, it is the first time that Trump himself has admitted that this is the reason he has so far not fulfilled his election promise regarding the embassy.
Trump spoke with Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and a leading Evangelical supporter of Israel, who also happens to be the father of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders. In reply to a question from Huckabee about his promise to move the embassy, Trump stated that his administration will "make a decision in the not-so distant future."
He then explained, however, that his administration is currently working on a plan to advance a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that "I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem."
Trump promised a number of times during the 2016 election to move the embassy, but after assuming power in January of this year, has consistently avoided questions about when that promise will be fulfilled. In June, he signed a waiver delaying the embassy's move by half a year, as every president before him has done ever since Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995.
Trump's full response to Huckabee's question, was that his administration is "working on a plan that everybody says will never work, because for many, many years it never worked – they say it's the thoughest deal of all, peace between Israel and the Palestinians, so we're going to work that, and if that doesn't work, which is possible, to be totally honest – some people say it's impossible, but I don't think it's impossible, and I think that's something that can happen, and I don't want to make any predictions, but I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem."
Minister Zeev Elkin said he "deeply regrets that President Trump chose to delay making good on his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem over an illusion that it is possible to promote a real peace process with the current Palestinian leadership.”
Elkin, the environmental protection minister who also holds the Jerusalem affairs portfolio, added that "Anyone who sees the Palestinian Authority's nonstop incitement; Abu Mazen's [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] refusal to stop paying salaries to terrorists; the election of a terrorist with blood on his hands as mayor of Hebron, the largest city in the PA; and most recently, embracing Hamas terrorists in a reconciliation deal, can clearly see that the last thing one can expect from Abu Mazen and his people is promoting peace."
The next time Trump will have to confront the question of whether or not the sign the six-months waiver will be in December. David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel who is a strong supporter of settlements and an opponent of Palestinian statehood, has stated a number of times in recent months that the embassy move is "a question of when, not if." U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has made similar statements in the months since Trump entered office. The president himself, however, has not made such direct promises in recent months.