WASHINGTON — With one day before the deadline, US President Donald Trump has not yet decided whether he will sign a waiver that would delay moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for six months, the White House announced Tuesday.
Asked if the president had made a determination, Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered a one-word answer to reporters: “No.” He later added that, “Once we have a decision, we’ll let you know.”
A 1995 law mandates the relocation of the embassy, but provides the president with the prerogative to postpone the move on national security grounds. Each of Trump’s three immediate predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — repeatedly exercised that right.
The most recent waiver, signed by Obama, expires on June 1. If it is not signed by then, the US government will be legally obligated to proceed with moving the embassy.
After Trump announced his trip to Israel, there was high speculation that he would use the visit — which came just before Jerusalem Day, when Israel commemorated 50 years since the Six Day War — to announce the move, something he repeatedly pledged he would do as a candidate.
He seemingly backed off his promise early in his presidency. It was reported that his conversation with various Arab leaders, especially King Abdullah II of Jordan at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, was instrumental to his decision to put the issue on the back burner.
Arab leaders have reportedly told Trump — as well as other members of his administration — that an embassy move at this time would spark unrest in the region while making it difficult for their countries to play a helpful role in the peace process.
Days before he left for the region, which included his stopping first in Saudi Arabia, a senior administration official confirmed to The Times of Israel that Trump would not move forward with his campaign promise “immediately” but that “a final decision hadn’t been made.”
Another official told Bloomberg: “We don’t think it would be wise to do it at this time. We’ve been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done, but we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”
The deadline comes just after Trump’s first presidential trip to the Middle East, where he sought to boost his efforts to broker what he considers the “ultimate deal” of Israel-Palestinian peace.
“I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal,” Trump said while in the West Bank last week.
On May 24, the day after Trump left Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his call for the US, and all other countries which have ties with Israel, to move their embassies to Jerusalem. It was “absurd” that foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said.