Jerusalem awaits decision: Will Trump sign waiver after the deadline?

The anticipated deadline for President Trump to sign the waiver that prevents moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has come and gone, but it may still be signed in conjunction with his expected declaration of US recognition of the Israeli capital.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

According to the American law, US President Donald Trump had to sign a waiver by December 1st if he intends to delay a move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for six more months. He failed to do so. Does that mean that that embassy staff must immediately start packing for the move? Moving trucks have yet to be spotted on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv, and the apparent answer is “no.”

A White House spokesman confirmed Monday that Trump ignored the deadline, but indicated that he may still sign the waiver in the coming days with minimal or no consequences expected.  Since December 1st was a Friday, the deadline was initially extended to the next full work day after the weekend on Monday, December 4th.  The current date is December 5th, and that is unchartered territory as far as the waiver is concerned.  Trump is due to make a major policy speech that relates to Jerusalem on Wednesday, December 6th. Speculation is rising that the waiver signing may come just before or after that speech, if it happens at all.

Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, mandating the embassy’s move to Jerusalem while granting the president the prerogative to delay the move by six months at a time, based on “national security grounds.”  But the law does not require an automatic or immediate relocation. Practically speaking, if the waiver is not signed by January 1, 2018, it would impact the budget of the current embassy by withholding 50 percent of funds earmarked for the facility until the embassy in Jerusalem has been officially declared.

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‘Tough to make a prediction’

Israeli expert on US government Professor Shmuel Sandler from Bar Ilan University told World Israel News (WIN) that “it’s tough to make a prediction because everything about this president has been unexpected.” Sandler explains that in his upcoming speech, Trump could announce that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and intends to move the embassy – without actually making the move at this time. Sandler thinks that Trump may be trying to use a “carrot and stick approach” toward Israel’s enemies. The threat is “Move on the peace process or we will move the embassy.”

Technically, if the president does not exercise the waiver, the law comes into effect and the embassy must be transferred. “Trump is looking to turn the issue into leverage,” said Sandler.

World and Middle East leaders are warning that even if he does sign a waiver, a declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital could bring violence and an end to any prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Europe is rattled. French President Emmanuel Macron and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini both expressed “dire warnings of inflamed tensions.” Macron reportedly told Trump that “any decision or announcement must be within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” aimed at the establishment of two states with Jerusalem as the capital of both.

The Arab world appears to be united against any change in Jerusalem’s status. The Palestinian Authority together with the foreign ministers of Oman, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Iraq and Tunisia issued a joint warning that US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital would be a “kiss of death” to the two-state solution.

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‘The moment is now’

Israeli leaders and opposition lined up to encourage an embassy move and welcomed the expected declaration by the American president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told his Yisrael Beiteinu faction that threats of violence by the Palestinians must not be allowed to influence the decision. “Israel knows how to deal with all possible ramifications,” Liberman said.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should have been done in 1948 or after the Six Day War in 1967. Former MK Dov Lipman from Yesh Atid told WIN that “as a former American and proud Israeli I expect the US to recognize Jerusalem as they would any other capital city in the world. Our connection to the city is biblically based and our historic rights are clear.  We deserve more than a statement. The moment to move the embassy is now.” Asked about possible violent ramifications, Lipman, “We must have the strength of our convictions. In any case, there is no peace process that can be damaged. I hope Trump makes this huge step forward.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat appealed directly to Trump by travelling to Washington, where he made an on-camera plea in front of the White House for Trump to move the embassy. Barkat thanked Trump for what he called his “commitment and intention to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”  Invoking history, Barkat described Jerusalem as “the beating heart and soul of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years,” and said US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital “will send a very clear message to the world that the United States stands with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” Barkat took a jab at Trump’s apparent hesitation, adding, “In Jerusalem, we don’t cave in to pressure and we don’t let threats of violence stop us from doing what is right.”

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A way out?

Former Knesset member Einat Wilf suggested “a way out” for President Trump. Wilf told WIN, “There is no disputing the fact that western Jerusalem, the area inside the 1948 armistice line is part of Israel. Everyone knows that. That’s where the Knesset and most government ministries are located. Trump should announce that he is recognizing Israeli sovereignty in western Jerusalem and announce that the embassy will move there.”  Both US consulates in Jerualem on Agron Street and in Talpiot are located on the Israeli side of that armistice line.  According to Wilf,  a move relating to “western Jerusalem” could diffuse the issue without causing a major upheaval.

Dr. Moshe Amirav of the Hebrew University was a paratrooper who fought, and was wounded, liberating Jerusalem’s Old City during the Six Day War. He has written extensively about the history of the city and advised then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak during peace talks. Amirav told WIN, “I explained to then-President Clinton that the key is to define what Jerusalem is.  The boundaries of the city were one thing in 1917, another in 1948 and still another after 1967. We can use the Rome model. Jerusalem can simultaneously be the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine.  It’s only a matter of changing the city’s borders as a tool to reach an agreement.”

With Trump’s decision still looming and the deadline past, the White House is reiterating its position.  According to the latest statement from Washington, “The president has always said it is a matter of when, not if the embassy is moved.  The president is still considering options and we have nothing to announce.”