Totally expected, and yet a little discordant with Donald Trump’s efforts to be seen as a promise keeper. The new president has signed the standard six-month waiver on moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem despite a campaign promise to act quickly on the transfer. Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement that emphasized Trump’s commitment to the move, saying “the question is not if that move happens, but when.”
That’s what every president since Bill Clinton has said, too:
President Donald Trump renewed a waiver on that keeps the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv instead of moving it to Jerusalem, the White House announced Thursday.
Mr. Trump had promised on the campaign trail and during the transition that he would move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital in what would be a major reversal of longstanding U.S. policy.
Mr. Trump faced a June 1 deadline to sign the waiver, or else be legally obligated to move the embassy under a 1995 law.
In a statement, the White House said Mr. Trump decided to sign the waiver 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.”
ABC’s report notes the promise-breaking aspect of the decision, citing his promise to AIPAC last year. Mark Knoller notes that Trump went with boilerplate language for the waiver:
Pres Trump's Embassy move waiver document the same as his predecessors have signed every six months since 1998: pic.twitter.com/9U0xOLPGfc
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) June 1, 2017
So far, the Israeli government doesn’t appear to be satisfied with the “not if but when” formulation. Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has issued a statement declaring that the decision will “drive peace further away” rather than expedite it:
“Israel’s consistent position is that the American embassy, like the embassies of all countries with whom we have diplomatic relations, should be in Jerusalem, our eternal capital,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office says.
“Maintaining embassies outside the capital drives peace further away by helping keep alive the Palestinian fantasy that the Jewish people and the Jewish state have no connection to Jerusalem.
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,” it says.
It may be a little difficult to defend this change for Trump, who openly criticized past presidents of both parties for waivers and campaigned on being a non-politician who keeps his promises. His rationale for the waiver is precisely the same as those of his predecessors from 1995 onward, which is that he wants to see what he can accomplish in the peace process. That may well be a reasonable and rational approach, but again, it’s exactly why the embassy hasn’t been moved since the passage of the 1995 law. Literally nothing has changed since Trump made that promise in the Israeli-Palestinian standoff except that Trump’s visited both sides as president. If Trump thinks the move will impede progress in talks, why would he have made that promise to AIPAC in the first place? If it’s because all presidential candidates make that promise — and they do — then Trump becomes just another politician who tells each audience what they want to hear, rather than being a transformative outsider who delivers on his promises.
The only way out of that trap is to suddenly succeed in getting a deal out of Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. And that’s not a question of when, and it’s almost certainly not even a question of if any more. Nevertheless, it’s really just a predictable extension of the status quo, and so will be the next waiver and the one that comes after that. He’ll have to defend his retreat every six months in a way that Barack Obama or even George Bush never had to do, thanks to existing media hostility but also his claims to transcend the status quo. At some point, perhaps around the third waiver, it will become a back-page story — especially if Trump manages to deliver on his other promises.