Facing a midnight deadline that would have automatically triggered the embassy move, the President decided to break his promise and maintain the status quo.
As the deadline approached yesterday, sources at the White House late Wednesday indicated that the President would likely continue his predecessors’ practice of signing six-month waivers that prevent the embassy’s relocation. This is despite promises on the campaign trail that moving the embassy would be a foreign policy priority designed to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations after eight strained years under President Obama.
When asked by reporters on Wednesday about the impending deadline, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was vague, saying, “Once we have a decision, we’ll put it out.”
Despite the decision, the White House insisted today: “While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no 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. As he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”
For a President who campaigned on the promise of bold and courageous leadership, this is a cowardly, and frankly shocking failure in leadership. Reneging on this promise is a spectacular disappointment for pro-Israel supporters and voters who resonated with Trump’s strong positions on Israel. For a young administration still lacking a significant, substantive foreign policy accomplishment, moving the embassy is a pro-America, pro-Israel decision that would have set the trajectory and tone of Trump’s foreign policy, particularly in regards to the Middle East. Thus, today’s decision is not just a missed opportunity, it is a failure in leadership.
During the 2016 presidential campaign then candidate-Trump boldly promised, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem. And we will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between American and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.”
Unfortunately, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen did not end on day one, and with today’s decision, will continue for at least another six months. Since assuming office, an obvious shift in rhetoric has occurred. When asked directly where the administration stood on moving the embassy, Trump said on February 10, “I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy [issue], and we will see what happens. The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision. I’m thinking about it very seriously, and we will see what happens.”
Today’s broken promise means that Israel remains the only sovereign nation in the world whose capital is not fully recognized by the United States. This is shameful, and is the type of decision we would have expected with President Hillary Clinton, not President Trump.
Eighteen years ago, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 which says, “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected; Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” Despite nearly unanimous Congressional support (the law was adopted by the Senate 93-5 and the House 374-37), Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have signed a series of waivers delaying the move, citing security concerns.
The most recent waiver had been signed by President Obama in December 2016.
When asked last month about the President’s apparent about-face on the embassy issue, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel’s position is that all embassies, particularly the US embassy, should be in Israel’s capital- Jerusalem.” According to Israeli media reports, as recently as Monday of this week Prime Minister Netanyahu attempted to persuade Trump to honor his promise. Netanyahu’s contention is that by moving the embassy the President would both correct a historical anomaly whereby the United States does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and force the Palestinians to recognize that they cannot divorce Israel and the Jewish people from Jerusalem.
Around the United States, as conservatives and Israel supporters waited for the President’s impending decision, many voiced their hope that President Trump would honor his promise and not sign the waiver. Today they are sorely disappointed.
On Wednesday, Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and President of Christians in Defense of Israel said,
Congress signed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1999. Eighteen years waiting is more than enough. It is beyond time for the United States to move the Embassy to Jerusalem. To not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel contradicts the Bible, history, present-day reality, and is anti-Semitic. Move the Embassy! Keeping the Embassy in Tel Aviv has not brought the Palestinian Authority to the table to talk peace. The Hamas government in Gaza has no interest in peace. This year, being the 50th anniversary of a united Jerusalem, is the perfect time to move the Embassy to the capital of Israel