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US still elusive on embassy move ahead of Trump visit to Israel, West Bank

May 11, 2017 1:19 P.M. (Updated: May 11, 2017 9:14 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- More than three months into his presidency, United States President Donald Trump has still not reached a decision over whether to implement his campaign promise of moving the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a White House spokesperson said on Wednesday, ahead of Trump's planned visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory later this month.

Trump’s highly controversial campaign promise of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, should it be implemented, would in effect amount to American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, effectively torpedoing efforts to implement a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, warned in March that relocating the embassy in Tel Aviv would “explode the situation” in the entire Middle East and North Africa region.

However, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said in a press conference on Wednesday evening that Trump “has not made a decision yet and is still reviewing that.”

While US President Donald Trump's campaign promise to move the embassy has been reiterated a number of times since his election, the Trump administration said at the end of January that it was still "too early" to discuss the issue, and that details would be announced "soon."

The new postponement of the decision comes as Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported on Thursday that the Israeli government was purposefully postponing a meeting to approve illegal settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory until after Trump’s visit.

Haaretz quoted an anonymous senior Israeli official as saying that the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had postponed a meeting by the Civil Administration's High Planning Committee initially scheduled for this week to June, in order avoid having the issue of illegal settlements become the focal point of Trump’s visit on May 22.

"We didn't want to hold discussions on the settlements close to Trump's visit," the official told Haaretz. "The postponement was necessary."

On the issue of Palestine, Trump has remained largely elusive, saying in February that when it comes to a solution for the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict he could “live with either” a one- or two-state solution, in a significant departure from the US’ publicly held position in favor of a two-state solution to the conflict.

The Israeli government has welcomed Trump’s presidency, as right-wing politicians believe they will more easily advance plans to expand Israeli settlements since Trump came forward as a vocal supporter of Israel, made the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a centerpiece in his campaign promises, and was quick to express his opposition to a UNSC resolution that harshly condemned illegal settlements.

However Trump has also made statements critical of settlements following the passage in Israel’s parliament of the “Regularization law,” to the surprise of the Israeli government, which was widely believed to have strategically stalled the legislation until Trump was sworn into office.
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