Following months of speculation – will he? won’t he? — on June 1, President Trump signed a national security waiver of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, postponing for 6 months the requirement to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In signing the waiver, Trump follows in the footsteps of every U.S. president since 1995 (from both parties) — both in deciding to delay the moving of the embassy and in reneging on statements made during the presidential campaign related either to the embassy issue specifically or, more generally, to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. More than 20 years of experience has demonstrated that the thorny issues related to Jerusalem look very different, depending on whether one is a candidate or a sitting president. For the reasons why signing the waiver was the right decision (though we have no way of knowing if any of these reasons were factors in Trump’s decision), see our analysis.
Notably (and perhaps predictably),Trump’s signing of the waiver has (as of this writing) elicited very little reaction from Trump enthusiasts who had previously advocated moving the embassy (indeed, this article on Breitbart rationalizes the decision). As for Netanyahu, he responded with basically a shrug and a hug: “Though Israel is disappointed that the embassy will not move at this time, we appreciate today’s expression of President Trump’s friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future.“
Finally, please note: by signing the waiver, Trump is in no way bound to NOT move the embassy for the next six months – he has simply suspended for six months the imposition of financial penalties on the State Department for failing to do so. Based on the fact that the new U.S. ambassador has now taken up residence in Jerusalem (something unprecedented in U.S. history), and this same ambassador has not ceased talking about his plans to work out of Jerusalem, there is every reason to remain “on alert” to gradual changes in U.S. policy on the ground that could represent a de facto policy of creeping recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (including the ambassador carrying out and participating in representational functions in the city). For other countries, this raises questions about their own practices and what they will mean (e.g., if invited to a reception at the U.S. ambassador’s home, will Consul Generals attend? If a European Consul General holds an official function in Jerusalem, will the U.S. ambassador be invited?).
This issue is not going away and requires constant vigilance. The embassy move will remain a sword of Damocles and a perennial temptation to the President, and the pressure from much of his base will not abate. If, for example, the prospects for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are dashed, his calculus could well change.