The State Department has shut down rumors of an imminent transfer of the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, however officials have yet to announce whether the waiver to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv would be signed by U.S. President Donald Trump by the required time, Dec. 4.
Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would suggest a shift in long-standing U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as either Israeli or Palestinian territory. However, the U.S. choosing to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would suggest the United States has shifted that policy, de facto recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
The city’s sovereignty is an essential issue between the two powers, as both imagine Jerusalem working as the their state capital in the future.
Rumors of an imminent embassy move began circulating again on Wednesday, when Dana Weiss, the chief political analyst for Channel 2 News tweeted that sources had told the reporter that Trump planned to move the embassy under pressure from Trump’s “Evangelist supporters.”
The tweet came following Vice President Mike Pence’s statements at a United Nations event in New York that marked the 70th anniversary of a vote for the partition of Palestine, where he said the Trump administration was still “actively considering” moving the embassy.”
“President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Pence said.
As rumors began flying, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday denied that the embassy would be moved anytime in the near future.
“This is a premature report,” Sanders told reporters. “We have nothing to announce.”
A senior official with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) seemed unfazed by the rumors, telling Mondoweiss there was “no need” to comment.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry told reporters on the ministry’s Whatsapp group that the office was also choosing not to comment.
On Wednesday, Jordanian King Abdullah II warned against any future move of the embassy during a meeting with U.S. lawmakers in D.C., according to a Jordan Times report.
“The transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem at this stage will have repercussions in the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic scene, endanger the two-state solution and could be potentially exploited by terrorists to stoke anger, frustration, and desperation in order to spread their ideologies,” the Jordanian ruler warned.
In June there were questions regarding whether or not Trump would sign the waiver that keeps the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. During his campaign, Trump made promises about moving the embassy. While he signed the the waiver in June, his signature is required every six months in order for the embassy to continue functioning in Tel Aviv, with the next waiver expiring on Dec. 4.
It is still unknown whether Trump plans to sign the waiver, or use the threat of an embassy move to pressure Palestinian decision makers into making harder compromises during peace negotiations, much like last week’s threat to close down the PLO office in D.C. — the only sort of representative office for the Palestinian people in the United States — by similarly refusing to sign a waiver to keep the office open, and then backtracking on the decision after much political uproar.
A waiver has to be signed every six months in order to keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv due to a the “Jerusalem Embassy Act,” signed by the congress in 1995.
The act required then-President Bill Clinton, to move the U.S. embassy to Tel Aviv, and in doing so, acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Despite his opposition to the act, Clinton signed the bill, supposedly because it had passed with largely bipartisan support. He did not go through with the requirements however, using a mechanism in the law that allows the president to delay the law’s activation by signing a waiver every six months under “security reasons.”
Every U.S. president since then has continued the process. If at anytime during Trump’s presidency, he fails to sign the waiver, the law could be enacted, and the U.S. embassy could be moved to Jerusalem, causing waves that would surely ripple throughout the Middle East and beyond.