Will the US finally honor a 20-plus-year stand and move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? Perhaps, say both CNN and Sean Spicer, but … not necessarily very quickly. In his first full press briefing earlier today, Spicer told the media that the new administration is still in the “early stages of the decision-making process.” When challenged as to whether that was a decision on whether to move the embassy or just how to accomplish it, the press secretary declined to get more specific:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 23, 2017
CNN reported earlier that Donald Trump still “remains committed” to the transfer, but wants to take his time and work with other allies:
While remaining committed to relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the Trump administration is expected to move cautiously on a timeline as it focuses on critical issues in the American relationship with the Israeli government and consults with allies about the way forward, senior administration, Israeli and diplomatic sources tell CNN. …
A senior administration official said that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv remains a priority for the president but cautioned that it would not be happen quickly. No announcements are expected Monday or in the coming days, the official said, adding that working on the issue will be one of the first tasks awaiting Jared Kushner, a senior adviser and son-in-law to Trump.
Trump, like other Republican presidential candidates before him, didn’t exactly promise caution in the embassy move. However, the CNN report suggests that the boldness of Trump’s rhetoric might have some other value for the incoming administration:
Arab and European diplomats said there have been signs Trump and his advisers could slow down implementing a formal relocation amid warnings from Arab and European officials to the incoming administration that the move could unleash violence, undermine the peace process, damage US standing in the Middle East, and endanger American personnel. They have urged the incoming administration to consult with allies about the move and put it in the context of a broader strategy toward addressing the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
It would not be out of character for Trump to make bold demands, and then use those to get better terms in future agreements while using them for leverage. Trump has already blasted efforts by the Arabs and Europeans to isolate Israel with the UN Security Council resolution, and Trump reiterated his commitment on Jerusalem in answer to that effort. Pushing hard for the transfer now might be Trump’s way of forcing concessions back out of those same countries that took advantage of the Obama administration’s fit of pique over Benjamin Netanyahu.
Or, perhaps it has nothing to do with negotiation. Even if Trump wants the embassy moved now, it will take at least several months to work out the details, the security, and the personnel issues with in-country staff. One would think that Spicer might be a little less ambiguous on that point if the basic decision is firm, but it still allows for the greatest flexibility in case unexpected circumstances arise. When Netanyahu visits next month, perhaps we’ll know more — or when the UNSC agrees to reconsider that last resolution, we’d know even more.