U.S. President Donald Trump signed a waiver delaying the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking his election promise. Netanyahu said in response the decision delays peace, while the Palestinians voiced support, saying Trump's decision "gives peace a chance."
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Trump's decision, which is in line with long-standing American policy, breaks an election promise he made to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the second president to break such a promise after George W. Bush.
The waiver has been signed by every U.S. president since 1995, and is valid for six months at a time. Former U.S. President Barack Obama signed it during the last weeks of his term.
The White House said on Thursday that, while Trump signed the waiver, he has no intention to break his campaign promise, but worries that moving it now could harm efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. "[N]o 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 White House said in a statement.
"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. But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when," said the statement.
The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying that not moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem only delays peace with the Palestinians.
"Israel's consistent policy is that the American embassy like other embassies should be in Jerusalem, our eternal capital," the statemetn said. "Keeping embassies out of Jerusalem postpones peace because it contributes to the Palestinian illusion that the Jewish people and their country have no connection to Jerusalem."
Striking a similar tone, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) said the delay complicates reaching a peace deal because it “nurtures false hope.”
"There is no peace based on the splitting of Jerusalem,” Bennett said in a statement. “The delaying of the embassy move, especially at this point, makes achieving a real peace more difficult because it nurtures false hope in the Palestinians that Jerusalem will be split, something that will never happen. Only the full recognition of a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty will put an end to the illusions and will pave a path to a true peace with our neighbors."
Hussam Zomlot, ambassador of Palestine to the United States, said Trump's decision not to move the embassy was "in line with the long-held U.S. policy and the international consensus and it gives peace a chance."
Zomlot said the Palestinians "are ready to to start the consultation process with the U.S. administration. We are serious and genuine about achieving a just and lasting peace."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Trump not to sign the presidential order freezing the moving of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a week and a half ago during their meeting in Jerusalem. According to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu told Trump that Israel was interested in having the embassy moved and that he did not think that this would cause a deterioration in the security situation in the West Bank.
Trump signed that presidential order on the day Obama six-months waiver expired. Senior American officials stated over the past 24 hours that Trump is expected to issue an order renewing the freezing of the embassy move. According to these officials, the main reason for this is that Trump doesn't want to thwart the efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
A senior Trump administration official said the Israeli government continued to discuss the matter through by messages, even after the Trump-Netanyahu meeting. Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer discussed the matter with several senior White House officials and stressed that Israel wanted Trump to not sign the order. Early in the week, before Shavuot, Netanyahu spoke on the phone with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and relayed to him a similar message.