US officials confirm: Trump may declare Jerusalem Israel’s capital

Trump is considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US officials said Thursday.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

US officials have confirmed reports that President Donald Trump is seriously considering recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump’s announcement is expected next week and follows months of internal deliberations that grew particularly intense in recent days, according to officials familiar with the talks. They described the president as intent on fulfilling his pledge to move the embassy but also mindful that doing so could set back his aim of forging a long-elusive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim part of Jerusalem as the capital of an eventual state.

Such an announcement would be a way to delay his campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, they say.

The officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the outlines of Trump’s plan emerged from a meeting of his top national security advisers at the White House on Monday. Trump himself was expected to drop by the meeting for 15 or 20 minutes. He ended up staying for at least an hour and grew increasingly animated during the session, according to two officials briefed on what happened.

Trump is likely to issue a waiver on moving the embassy by Monday, officials said, though they cautioned that the president could decide otherwise.

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The White House also is considering a possible presidential speech or statement on Jerusalem by Wednesday, according to the officials and an outside administration adviser. Another possibility involves Vice President Mike Pence, who is set to travel to Israel in mid-December, making the Jerusalem announcement during his trip, one official said. Pence said Tuesday – at an event in New York celebrating 70 years since the UN vote for a partition plan leading to the creating of a Jewish state – that Trump is “actively considering when and how” to move the embassy.

‘No decision has been made yet’

“No decision on this matter has been made yet,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday.

White House spokesman Sarah Sanders on Wednesday called an earlier report saying Trump would order an embassy move as “premature.”

Under U.S. law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the U.S. must relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem unless the president waives the requirement on national security grounds, something required every six months.

All presidents since Clinton have issued the waiver, saying Jerusalem’s status is a matter for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate. Trump signed the waiver at the last deadline in June, but the White House made clear he still intended to move the embassy.

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Mattis, Tillerson warn against embassy move

At Monday’s White House meeting, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the case that moving the embassy in Israel would pose a grave danger to American diplomats and troops stationed in the Middle East and Muslim nations, the U.S. officials said.

King Abdullah II, who met with Pence and Tillerson this week in Washington, made the same argument, telling the vice president and others that any change to the embassy in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would create unrest and instability throughout the region and drive up anti-American sentiment, according to the officials.

After a lengthy back and forth at the White House meeting, Trump and his inner circle appeared to accept those concerns but insisted that the president had to demonstrate his stated commitment to move the embassy, the officials said. The discussion then turned toward waiving the embassy move for another six months but combining it with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital, which the Israelis have long sought.

Furthermore, the officials said, the State Department recently advised American diplomatic posts in predominantly Muslim nations that an announcement about the embassy and Jerusalem’s status is possible next week, and advised them to be vigilant about possible protests.

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Netanyahu: Jerusalem will always be Israel’s capital

Inside the Trump administration, officials said debate now centers on how to make a Jerusalem announcement without affecting Israeli-Palestinian “final status” negotiations. One option reportedly under consideration is to include in any such statement a nod to Palestinian aspirations for their capital to be in east Jerusalem, a move that would likely infuriate Israel, which opposes any division of its capital city.

“Fifty years ago we returned to the heart of our capital and our country, and 50 years ago we did not conquer it, rather we liberated it,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony last May celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification during the Six Day War.

“With the heroism of our fighters and the pride of our people, Jerusalem has once again been united, and therefore I say today to the world, in a clear and unequivocal voice that Jerusalem has always been and will always be the capital of Israel…

“The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will always remain under Israeli sovereignty,” he declared.