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One day before deadline, Trump yet to make a decision on embassy move

May 31, 2017 5:21 P.M. (Updated: June 1, 2017 4:35 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- One day before the deadline for a final decision on moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Donald Trump’s administration said the American president had yet to reach a decision on the widely condemned and controversial move.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters in a press briefing “once we have a decision we'll let you know” regarding the matter, adding no further details, Israeli news daily Haaretz reported on Wednesday.

Haaretz highlighted that if Trump did not reach a final decision by Thursday, the US government would be forced by a 1995 decision taken by the US Congress to begin the relocation process of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Over the past two decades, every US president has signed a six-month, renewable presidential waiver delaying the implementation of the congressional decision. At the end of his term, former President Barack Obama signed the waiver, which will expire on Thursday.

While Spicer maintained that Trump had yet to make up his mind despite the looming deadline, Haaretz noted that “this has been Spicer's answer to every question regarding the embassy move ever since Trump entered the White House in January,” despite his campaign promises to do so.

However, American news outlet CNN quoted US officials as saying that Trump would likely sign the waiver. If that were the case, the official added, it would “not be indicative of (Trump) reversing his opinion, it will just be a question of timing. It will be when, not if.”

The highly controversial move, which has been celebrated by Israeli officials, would be seen as the first step to a drastic abdication of longstanding US policy that has largely adhered to international standards on Israel-Palestine, which maintains East Jerusalem as an intricate part of occupied Palestinian territory and the capital of any future Palestinian state, despite Israel’s annexation of the territory.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.

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

On the issue of Palestine, Trump has remained largely elusive, saying in February that when it came 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, reports also emerged earlier this month that Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster refused to say whether the Western Wall was part of Israel, while American diplomats stationed at the US consulate in East Jerusalem told representatives of Netanyahu's office that the Western Wall was part of the occupied West Bank, and refused to hold talks with Israeli officials about arrangements for Trump’s planned visit to the site.

While the Israeli government is believed to have strategically stalled the passage of legislation further entrenching Israel’s illegal settlement expansion until after Trump’s inauguration, owing to the belief among Israeli leaders that right-wing policies would be more easily implemented under a Trump presidency, Trump’s unpredictable nature has left Israeli authorities and Palestinian leaders alike unsure of his actual stance on the conflict.

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