Yeah, yeah, I know what Mike Pence said a few weeks ago. But c’mon. You didn’t think Trump was going to invite Abbas to the White House to tout the peace process then turn around and make a big show of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, did you? For cripes sake, U.S. officials reportedly warned Israelis a few days ago that “the Western Wall is not in your territory,” and H.R. McMaster refused to correct them when invited to do so at a press conference. The White House’s skittishness about making any sudden moves on “disputed territory” has been plain for awhile.
But yes, this is certainly a broken campaign promise. For now.
The official said the administration considers its discussions with both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to be promising, with the Palestinians in particular agreeing to talk without preconditions. The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Trump said in a speech to the American Israeli Political Action Committee conference in March 2016 that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, calling it “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” The city is claimed as a capital by both Jews and Palestinians, however, and relocating the U.S. embassy — essentially declaring Jerusalem to be Israeli territory — would raise tensions.
“We don’t think it would be wise to do it at this time,” the official said. “We’ve been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done, but we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”
A source told Politico yesterday that the embassy will be moved before 2020, presumably if/when peace talks collapse. In the meantime, which side takes the blame? A few days ago, Fox News reported that Netanyahu had asked Trump not to move the embassy — a convenient claim for the White House since it allowed Trump to break his promise while insisting that the Israelis made him do it. Netanyahu, who has his own right-wing base to worry about, fired back that not only had he told Trump to move the embassy, he had evidence to prove it. The prime minister’s office released parts of its summary of Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump on February 15th in which the PM reportedly told Trump he supported moving the embassy and insisted it wouldn’t lead to any bloodshed. On Sunday, Netanyahu doubled down, stating that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would actually help peace along rather than hurt it by delivering a reality check to the Palestinians:
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the US government and to the world,” Netanyahu said. “Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will not only not harm the peace process, it will advance it by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”
Three days later, the embassy move has been indefinitely postponed. Which side’s telling the truth? Maybe neither: Trump and Netanyahu may have privately agreed that moving the embassy is too risky right now, followed by each posturing publicly that it was the other guy who wimped out. No surprise, though, that the White House would leak this with Trump’s first big foreign trip to the Middle East approaching. It’s a goodwill gesture of sorts to America’s Sunni allies, who have been hinting at rapprochement with Israel if the peace process gets back on track. And it reduces the risk of further inflammation from a president who once called for a temporary global ban on Muslims visiting the U.S. delivering a speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia. (What could go wrong?) Not moving the embassy — yet — is the cautious play, especially so early in his term.
Here’s Nikki Haley contradicting McMaster via the Brody File, insisting that the Western Wall is part of Israel. She’s a politician with a national future potentially, McMaster isn’t. That may help explain the difference in opinion.