President Trump will announce the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but will sign a waiver delaying the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to there, senior administration officials said Tuesday.
Trump will make the announcement on Wednesday, in a speech that will be closely watched by other world leaders who fear the move will undermine peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and spark protests across the Middle East.
In an effort to make good on a campaign promise, Trump will direct the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
But administration officials said the move would not take place immediately because there is not enough room to house the roughly 1,000 embassy personnel in Jerusalem. Therefore, Trump will sign a waiver keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for the next six months.
Officials said Trump would continue to sign the waiver until the move can be completed, a process that could take no less than three to four years.
Still, the president’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel upends decades of American policy in the Middle East and risks inflaming violence in an already-tense region.
Trump informed Israeli, Arab and European leaders of his decision in phone calls over the past two days.
Some, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, warned him the announcement would have “dangerous” repercussions for regional stability.
The Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future state and the ancient city has holy sites that are important to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Senior Trump administration officials downplayed those concerns, saying the decision leaves room for the status of Jerusalem to be considered in negotiations with Israel because Trump will not declare the city is the Jewish state’s undivided capital.
“As we have said, this announcement does not change U.S. policy over the specific borders, dimensions, any of that,” one official said. “That will be subject to final-status negotiations.”
They argued that the move could actually aid the peace process by offering a “recognition of reality” about Jerusalem.
“For a long time, the U.S. position held that ambiguity would advance the prospect of peace,” another official said. “We’re 22 years in and it seems now the physical location of the U.S. embassy is not an impediment to a peace deal.”
In making the decision, Trump heavily weighed domestic politics in addition to the situation in the Middle East.
He repeatedly promised during the 2016 campaign to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, something that pleased many of his pro-Israel and evangelical Christian backers.
Trump, however, has reportedly felt stymied by some of his advisers who have urged him not to move the embassy in order to avoid sparking tensions in the Middle East at a time when he is dealing with the fight against ISIS, the war in Afghanistan and North Korea’s nuclear aggression.
Officials said another consideration in signing the waiver was avoiding a major cut in State Department funding mandated under a 1995 law if the embassy does not move to Jerusalem. Every president has waived the law since its passage.
They said immediately designating the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem as an embassy was out of the question for security and logistical reasons.
Even though Trump is not ordering the immediate relocation of the embassy, his decision is expected to ignite demonstrations in the region.
Hamas, the Islamic extremist group that partially controls the Gaza Strip, has declared Friday a “Day of Rage” in response to Trump’s expected announcement.
Jerusalem has long been the thorniest issue in the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the international community widely considers the city’s status to be unsettled.
East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, unifying the city under Israeli control. Jerusalem is home to the Israel’s parliament and prime minister’s residence but Palestinians have demanded that part of the city be set aside as a capital for them.