WASHINGTON - White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump has yet to reach a decision on whether or not to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump has only a short while to make a decision, before he will have to either sign - or not sign - a presidential waiver that will delay the implementation of a 1995 decision by Congress to move the embassy.
The waiver has been signed by every U.S. president since 1995, and it is valid for six months at a time. President Barack Obama signed it during the last weeks of his term, and on Thursday it will be half a year since he did so. That means that if Trump does not sign the waiver on Thursday, the U.S. government will be forced, by law, to begin the process of relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Spicer was asked about the issue during his daily press briefing, and despite the fact that the question included the looming deadline, he said that Trump has not yet made up his mind.
"Once we have a decision we'll let you know," he said, adding no further details. This has been Spicer's answer to every question regarding the embassy move ever since Trump entered the White House in January.
Spicer also discussed Trump's recent visit to Israel, saying that he was warmly received in the country and gave "a moving speech" at the Israel Musuem.
The administration's tug-of-war
Two competing groups of senior Trump administration officials have been waging war over this issue for over four months now, since the transition period before Trump took office.
On one side are some of his closest senior political advisors and appointments; on the other are leading cabinet ministers and most of the professional civil servants.
A senior Israeli official who heard from one of Trump’s advisors said that before Trump’s January 20 inauguration, there was a fierce argument over whether a pledge to move the embassy should be included in his inaugural address. The Prime Minister’s Office awaited the speech with a mix of anticipation and trepidation, but discovered that the opponents won out, and the embassy move was dropped from the speech.
According to several people familiar with the administration’s internal debates – both in Israel and America, all of whom asked to remain anonymous – the group urging Trump to refuse to sign the waiver and finally move the embassy is headed by Bannon himself. A number of these sources told Haaretz that Bannon doesn’t see the embassy move as a promise by Trump to Israel, but as a promise to the president’s right-wing nationalist base that put him in the White House.
Another dominant figure in the group pushing for the embassy move is new U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. During the campaign, it was Friedman who, in interviews with both the American and the Israeli media, repeatedly stressed Trump’s promise to move the embassy. Last December, when Trump appointed him as ambassador, he said he would work to strengthen ties between America and Israel, “and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
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