President Trump on Wednesday delayed a hotly anticipated decision over whether to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — a move he repeatedly vowed to order during his campaign — signing a waiver postponing such a change by six months as part of a likely effort to use it as leverage in a possible Middle East peace deal.
Signing the waiver — which CNN reported Trump would do Wednesday — would put off through December 1 any action on actually moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump still personally favors moving the embassy to Jerusalem but could use the decision to not sign the waiver as leverage in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in a possible peace deal, sources told CNN.
Such a move would likely infuriate Palestinian leaders. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem is seen as a sign of solidarity with Israel and formal recognition of the nation’s claims that all of the holy city is its indisputable capital.
That claim that is not recognized internationally. Israel captured parts of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians, however, have demanded that East Jerusalem be the capital of their own future state, which would exist as part of a two-state peace deal.
Trump had campaigned as a hard-liner on Israel, promising to move the embassy — something strongly desired in the U.S. by religious Jews and evangelical Christians, and abroad by Israel’s government, America’s top ally in the Middle East — and supporting Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
And after winning, Trump appointed David Friedman as his U.S. ambassador to Israel, putting in place a man with deep ties to right-wing Israeli politicians.
But Trump has since softened his stance considerably and taken a more traditional approach to Middle East issues, using what influence he has to try to bring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table.
In March, in a reversal, Trump asked Israel to “hold off” on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, and then, during subsequent visits to the White House by Netanyahu and Abbas, spoke of peace.
Trump even vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to reach a historic deal between Israel and the Palestinians during joint remarks with Abbas during his trip to Washington earlier this month.
Trump also met with both leaders on his visit through the Middle East and Europe last week.
Signing a waiver, however, merely postpones action for six months — a measure every U.S. President has taken twice yearly since 1995 — when Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act mandating the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem, a move desired by the Israeli government — to avoid the hotbed issue.