WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is preparing to formally declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and order a review of the best way to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, two officials said Thursday, actions that would reverse decades of U.S. policy and international peacemaking efforts, and could inflame the Arab world.
The White House hosted a high-level meeting Monday to discuss plans for transferring the embassy to the ancient holy city and to discuss a deadline today that requires the administration to notify Congress every six months if it will order the move — or issue a waiver, as previous administrations have done.
To the surprise of senior officials in attendance, Trump crashed the meeting with his own detailed agenda, according to a person familiar with White House deliberations.
A scheduled 30-minute meeting on waiving the 1995 law that requires the U.S. to move the embassy stretched to two hours, and Trump stayed for nearly half of that. He asked detailed questions, saying delaying the move indefinitely was unacceptable, and demanded options other than issuing a waiver.
Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which was signed by President Bill Clinton, the president must certify to Congress every six months that it is in the U.S. national interest to keep the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than in the disputed city of Jerusalem. Every president since Clinton has done so.
Trump is likely to issue a waiver again today, but order a review of moving the embassy with the intention of eventually doing so, said the official familiar with the deliberations.
In recent months, aides have persuaded him to delay a move to minimize the potentially disastrous effect on U.S. interests in the Middle East.
A final decision has not been made, however.
Trump vowed on the campaign trail last year to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and Vice President Mike Pence renewed speculation on Tuesday when he said in New York that Trump is “actively considering when and how” to do so.
When he took office, Trump promised to make the “ultimate deal” by forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But he sidelined the State Department, with its reservoir of diplomatic talent and Middle East expertise, and handed the task to his son-in law, Jared Kushner, and his former lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, who was named special envoy.
No discernible progress has been made although Trump has heralded a new willingness by Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal ties with Israel, to deal with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to assist in promoting a solution to the bitter conflict.
Even before Israel was established nearly 70 years ago, Jewish leaders envisioned Jerusalem as their “eternal and undivided” capital.
But Palestinians also claim the historic city of glowing limestone and honey-hued light. It is revered by the three main monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
In 1967, Israel fought Arab states in what came to be known in the West as the Six-Day War. Emerging as the victorious underdog, Israel was able to seize East Jerusalem, its central Old City and the West Bank from the neighboring kingdom of Jordan, as well as the Golan Heights from Syria and part of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.
The “final status” of Jerusalem has been in dispute ever since, regarded by the international community as a matter to be decided only when a final peace agreement establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is reached.
Trump’s pre-emptive move would throw that formulation into disarray.