President Donald Trump has signed a waiver to prevent moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, failing to follow through on a repeated campaign pledge that helped garner strong support from the Israeli people and government.
Trump waited until the last minute Wednesday to sign the presidential waiver allowing the embassy to remain in Tel Aviv despite a congressional mandate that it be moved. The previous waiver, issued by President Barack Obama in December, would have expired Thursday.
Signing the waiver is likely to disappoint Israelis and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who see an embassy move as an endorsement of Israel’s position that Jerusalem is its capital.
In a statement issued Thursday, the White House defended the decision, saying that “no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat” and that Trump still plans to move the embassy. But the statement offered no timetable.
“President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests,” the statement said.
Trump was under pressure not to move the embassy by Arab and European leaders who felt it would hinder peace talks with the Palestinians, who claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
In 1995, the U.S. Congress approved the Embassy Act in Jerusalem, which recognizes the city as the capital of Israel. The embassy was supposed to be moved in 1999, but every Republican and Democratic president since has used their powers to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.
During the presidential campaign, Trump often spoke about moving the embassy. But he has since downplayed the urgency and raised questions about not wanting to hinder Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Not moving the embassy affected Trump’s popularity in Israel, where Trump’s approval ratings have dropped significantly since he took office in January. Only 56 percent of Israeli Jews consider Trump to be pro-Israel, a decline from the 79 percent who felt that way before the inauguration, according to a recent Jerusalem Post poll.
Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who now serves as deputy minister for diplomacy in the Netanyahu government, was among those who put pressure on Trump during his recent trip to Israel to follow through on his promise.
“The focus is on how upsetting it’d be to Palestinians if the United States recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish capital,” Oren said during Trump’s visit to Israel. “Think about how upsetting to us it is that the U.S. doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as our capital.”
Oren, a member of the centrist Kulanu party, said Trump had lost credibility with some Israelis who believed him when he promised during his campaign for the presidency to move the embassy.