As Jerusalem Embassy Waiver Deadline Looms, Conflicting Reports on What Trump Will Do

By Patrick Goodenough | December 1, 2017 | 4:33 AM EST

The façade of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial center but not its capital. (Photo: State Department)

( – President Trump is required by this weekend to issue a waiver if he does not intend to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and the White House has played down reports that a significant announcement is imminent.

Conflicting media reports are speculating that Trump will either: issue the waiver for another six months; not issue the waiver and announce plans to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital; or issue the waiver but in an announcement formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and signal plans for the embassy move in the future.

Reporting on the latter scenario, the Wall Street Journal said the administration has notified U.S. embassies abroad about the coming announcement, enabling them to “inform their host governments and prepare for possible protests.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert insisted Thursday that “no decision has been made on that matter yet.”

She said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “is talking to the White House about that matter, and I know we’re having a lot of conversations about that as well. But again, I want to underscore that no decision has been made yet.”

In Israel, remarks earlier this week by Vice-President Mike Pence raised hopes that, after 37 successive waivers by four presidents, Trump was about to break the logjam and keep a campaign pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

“While, for the past 20 years, Congress and successive administrations have expressed a willingness to move our embassy,” Pence said in New York on Tuesday, “as we speak, President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

He made the comments while addressing an event marking the 70th anniversary of the U.N.’s historic vote for partition of the British mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. While Arab leaders rejected the plan, Jewish leaders the following May re-established the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Following Pence’s remarks, an Israeli news television channel reported on “very high expectations” in Israel that Trump would announce plans, as early as this weekend, to prepare the embassy move.

But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told news outlets that the report was “premature,” and that the White House has “nothing to announce.”

‘Disrespectful, dismissive and wrong’

In a recent floor speech in the House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called on Trump not to issue the waiver again.

“Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of the Israel, yet our embassy is in Tel Aviv,” he said. “This is disrespectful, dismissive and wrong. It sends the message that Israel cannot designate its own capital city.”


Some people claim that an embassy move would threaten peace, he said, but the Palestinian Authority does far more to harm peace by naming schools for terrorists, paying stipends to families of convicted terrorists, and “teach children that the murder of Jews is noble.”

The issue is a deeply controversial one.

Israel’s claim to the city – which it says dates back some 3,000 years, to the reign of the biblical King David – is not recognized by the international community, much of which supports the Palestinians’ demand for Jerusalem to be the capital of a future independent state.

When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, the nascent state fought off five Arab armies in a war that ended with eastern parts of Jerusalem under Jordanian control.

Israel captured eastern Jerusalem in 1967, ending a 19-year Jordanian occupation that only Britain and Pakistan had recognized as legal.

After the Knesset in 1980 declared the city to be Israel’s eternal and indivisible capital, the few remaining foreign embassies located there moved away, with the last two holdouts, Costa Rica and El Salvador, withdrawing just over a decade ago.

Even though Israeli control of western Jerusalem is supposedly uncontested, no country will locate its embassy in even that part of the city, where government institutions including the prime minister’s office and Knesset are based.

Under a 1995 U.S. law, the president was required to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999, failing which half of the funds appropriated for the State Department to acquire and maintain properties abroad would be forfeit.

Two weeks after the due date for the move, President Clinton invoked a six-monthly waiver built into the legislation, issuing the first “Suspension of Limitations Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act” notice.

Clinton would issue three more, followed by 16 each by Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, and one – last June – by Trump.

When Trump issued the waiver on June 1, the White House in an accompanying statement said that “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.”

“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,” it said. “But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”

While Trump issued the waiver in June despite his campaign pledges, he was not the first to do so.

As early as 1992, Bill Clinton when campaigning for the presidency promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem. So too did George W. Bush – as well as unsuccessful Republican and Democratic presidential nominees John McCain, Mitt Romney, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow