President Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Sunday, a conversation which Trump described as “very good.” It was widely expected the two would talk about the potential move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although it was not mentioned in the White House statement on the call.
It is reportedly a topic they agreed to discuss further in a meeting they’ve arranged for February, according to their offices. An anonymous source was cited by an Israeli newspaper late Sunday night in a report that claims the White House will make the announcement Monday evening about their intent to move the embassy, and that report has been cited by The Independent and other outlets. We’ll find out tonight if that is correct, obviously.
Ahead of the call, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked Sunday about the potential major shift in American policy. “We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” he told reporters.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act passed by Congress in 1995 to recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to have the embassy moved has never been acted on, but will come up over the next few weeks as the story continues to build. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have all issued waivers citing executive authority in order to not enact the law. Obama’s last such waiver lasts until June of this year.
Opposition to moving the embassy is strong, especially among Democrats, and is criticized as being a destabilizing act that would threaten the peace process. Palestinians consider Jerusalem to be their capital.
Whether the move happens or not, it is a definite sign of warming relations between the two countries following a disastrous eight years of antagonism under President Obama’s leadership. These may not sound like “big” steps, but as a break from the previous administration’s policy, this is practically a tectonic shift. The fact that it can even be discussed so openly, at such a high level, and with what appears to be serious intent is a rather remarkable change for the first few days of an administration.
It won’t be easy or without danger, but it is the right thing to do.