Amid promises from President-elect Donald Trump to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, President Barack Obama Thursday signed the traditional waiver preventing such a move.
Every six months, each president since Bill Clinton has signed such a waiver to suspend the limitations of the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Congress passed that bill in 1995, pledging to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, acknowledging it as Israel’s “undivided” capital. But the president’s executive authority allows him to stop the act from taking effect because he determines it is necessary “in order to protect the national security interests of the United States.”
The official U.S. embassy is in Tel Aviv, but the State Department also maintains a consulate in Jerusalem.
Clinton, President George W. Bush and Obama have all signed the waiver, believing the bill mandating the embassy move is an infringement on the executive’s authority to conduct foreign policy.
During his campaign Trump took advantage of the icy relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to claim that under his administration “the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one.” He has repeatedly pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem and acknowledge the city as the “eternal and indivisible” capital, but since his election advisers have sent mixed messages regarding the timeline and conditions under which this will be done.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who Trump is considering for secretary of state, also supported moving the embassy from Tel Aviv as he campaigned in 2012.
Obama too, as a candidate, promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem. But similar to his predecessors, he determined once in office making the embassy move would enrage the U.S.’ Arab allies. They, along with the Palestinians, dispute the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as the Palestinians also claim the territory as their capital. The city is currently split between East and West, with the Western portion largely being inhabited by Jews and the Eastern portion by Palestinians.
The State Department said following Trump’s election that “since Israel’s founding, the administrations of both parties have maintained a consistent policy here and that is recognizing no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.” Both Democrats and Republicans believed taking a stance on the capital was counterproductive to finding a two-state solution to the conflict.
Spokesman Mark Toner also said “as we consult with the incoming administration, we'll certainly make sure they understand, which is all we can do, our rationale behind exercising that waiver.”
The U..S., Israel’s staunchest ally, has long found itself walking a tightrope between the Jewish state and the Palestinians who lay claim to much of the same land. The Americans have led multiple failed efforts to achieve peace between the two groups, the last of which collapsed in 2014. There has been little political will on either side since then to resume negotiations.