Two Israeli cabinet ministers said Thursday that they hoped US President Donald Trump was about to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as a decision deadline neared. The issue is deeply controversial. Shifting the building could be seen as a de facto recognition of Israel’s claim over the whole city, including predominantly Palestinian east Jerusalem.
Foreign countries, including the United States, currently have their embassies in the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv since they do not recognize Israel’s unilateral claim of control over all of Jerusalem. “I hope that an absurd situation will end,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party told public radio.
He argued that when US presidents came to Israel, they went to Jerusalem and not Tel Aviv. Environment Minister Zeev Elkin, who also holds the Jerusalem affairs portfolio, told army radio that there was “no logical reason for this transfer to be postponed again.” Such a move, he said, “may convince other countries to do the same.”
Congress passed a law in 1995 making it US policy to move the embassy to Jerusalem, symbolically endorsing Israel’s claim on the city as its capital. But the act contained a clause that has allowed each president since to issue and renew a six-month waiver on carrying out the move. Shying away from a major campaign promise, Trump signed the waiver in June and now has a December 4 renewal deadline.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community. The Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state. The traditional United States position is that the status of Jerusalem must be negotiated between the two sides.
The White House on Wednesday dismissed reports of an imminent move as “premature”. Trump postponed any change in June in order to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the White House said at the time.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is due to visit Israel in December, said this week that Trump is “actively considering when and how” to move the embassy. Support for Israel is a key issue in US right-wing politics.