Israel may choose to trade Trump’s offer to move the US embassy to Jerusalem for a yet to be known political advantage.
Signs coming from Washington seem to point out that the intended decision to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem might not be implemented so quickly. But this should not be a reason for complacency.
In fact, if the embassy is not moved, such a decision might be the outcome of a backroom dealing which may result in a US policy even more biased towards Israel than has been seen from Washington for decades.
While Israelis are very much in favour of obtaining legitimacy for their insistence that the unified Jerusalem is Israel’s capital forever, the embassy move is more of a priority for Donald Trump than it is for Israel.
Speaking at a Washington, DC, event last December, Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman didn’t list the embassy issue as one of Israel’s top priorities. Iran, the Palestinian issue, settlements and Syria were listed by him as his country’s “focal points.”
Unlikely to be soon
The fact that the embassy decision wasn’t going to made early on in the Trump administration became clear in the public statements emanating from Washington. The White House spokesman Sean Spicer was asked three times about the issue during his first briefing, but he repeatedly answered that “no decision” was made on this issue.
Perhaps the most obvious signal came from the person in line to become the US ambassador to Israel – or as some Israeli settlers said Israel’s ambassador to the US – David Friedman, Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer who is a pro-settlements American Jew. He has said that he plans to live in Jerusalem regardless of where the embassy will be located.
Statements against the move came from the 70 countries attending the Paris peace conference on January 15 and from Jordan’s King Abdullah, who met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman to drive home this message.
A delay by Washington regarding the embassy’s move might also be helpful to one of Trump’s closest advisers. The job of President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was appointed as a peace envoy earlier this month, would certainly have become more difficult had the newly elected US president made a rash decision on the issue of the very sensitive status of the holy city.
Both Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed – albeit the latter cautiously – Kushner’s appointment.
The issue is not dead
The Jerusalem Embassy Act became law in the US in 1995 (PDF). It calls for the embassy to be moved unless the president feels it could harm US national security.
Continuous Republican and Democratic presidents have taken this route. Former US President Barack Obama signed a six-month waiver early in December 2016, practically denying any change on the issue until next June.