Though American presidents have traditionally promised to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem but deferred the actual move, President-elect Donald Trump appears to be seriously considering exploring how to make that move a reality.
Israeli media is rife with reports of Trump aides investigating potential locations for a secure embassy in the Jewish state’s capital. Currently, the American Embassy is located in Tel Aviv, as are most world embassies, a tacit recognition that despite Israel claiming Jerusalem as its capital that the city’s status will only be determined in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Trump promised several times during the campaign to move the embassy, but his vows were taken lightly considering previous presidents said the same yet never followed through. This president-elect, however, has thus far made several out-of-the-box decisions.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager and a senior adviser, said in a radio interview on Monday that Trump’s campaign commitment to move the embassy is a “very big priority.”
“He made it very clear during the campaign, and as president-elect I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly,” said Conway. “It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for. It is a great move.”
Conway said the move would satisfy not just Jewish Americans, but Christian zionists as well.
“People think it’s just marriage, abortion or religious liberties, and of course it’s about all that, but it’s also about a strong Middle East and about protecting Israel,” she said. “Evangelical Christians always have Israel at the top of their list when you ask what’s most important to them.”
The U.S. State Department does not recognize Jerusalem – even westerns sections that were always under Israeli control – as the capital and actually considers the city to have never been under the sovereignty of any country since the British Mandate ended in 1948.
But Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 requiring the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999. The law also offered a clause that enables the sitting president to sign a waiver twice a year to postpone the move based on “national security” concerns.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Trump’s transition team has begun exploring the logistics of relocating the embassy without the cooperation of the U.S. State Department.
If the move takes place it is expected to draw the ire of Palestinians.
“I hope that the new administration will carefully measure its policy toward the city and continue to adhere to the declared and official position of the U.S. about Jerusalem,” Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, the chief Palestine Liberation Organization representative to the U.S., told The New York Times this week. “Taking sides with Israel on such a sensitive and highly emotional issue will further escalate tension in an area that is already volatile.”