Motorists drive past the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in 2013. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

 

JERUSALEM — As he has every six months of his administration, President Obama signed a waiver Thursday ordering the U.S. Embassy in Israel to remain in Tel Aviv — and not be moved to Jerusalem, as Congress has requested and the Israelis would like.

Obama is not alone. Every president since the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was passed by Congress has signed the waiver every six months, determining the delay is necessary “to protect the national security interests of the United States.”

But during his campaign, Donald Trump vowed to move the seaside embassy — and pronto.

With the Republican's election, many Israelis — including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat — say they hope Trump will honor his promise.

“This will symbolize the close relationship and courageous friendship between the two nations,” said Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Israelis are excited by the prospect but not holding their breaths. About half of Israelis polled said they didn't think Trump would really relocate the embassy, according to a November survey for the Jerusalem Post.

In an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March, Trump promised to “move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

This was red meat at an AIPAC convention. Trump said the relocation would happen “fairly quickly.”

Trump is not alone here. Previous candidates, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, promised the same thing in their courtship of pro-Israel voters, then reversed themselves.

The nascent State of Israel took control of West Jerusalem in 1948. It proclaimed Jerusalem its capital in 1950. Israel won East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. Jerusalem today is not only a crucible for three world religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — but also the center of Israel's government, home of its parliament, its ministries and the offices and residences of the prime minister.

But. There is often a but in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Most of the world does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory. Israel disputes this. The United States, like other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv and says any change must await the final resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

But if Trump were to want to move the U.S. Embassy up the hill 40 miles from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, diplomats say it would require . . . virtually nothing.

President Trump could simply not sign the next waiver, and then planning and construction could proceed.

Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama sought to maintain credibility to attempt to help the parties find a resolution of the long-running conflict. They also feared that after such a move, the Palestinians would erupt, the Arab world would condemn and the United States might find itself at odds with allies in Europe and elsewhere.

The decision will soon be Trump's.