On Monday evening, President Donald Trump missed the midnight deadline to sign a waiver putting off moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months, but his next steps seem anything but certain.
The waiver of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandates that the US must move its embassy, has been faithfully signed every six months by every president since it was originally passed in 1995. It first came up for review under Trump in June, but to the dismay of Israel and his Evangelical voter base, the president elected to renew the waiver – and put off the move.
However, his administration stayed firm on its message that moving the embassy was a high priority for the president, with Vice President Mike Pence stating as recently as last Tuesday that the president was then “looking into how and when to move the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
The president’s second deadline passed on Monday night, with the waiver remaining unsigned. However, with few indicators that any on-the-ground preparations for an embassy move are underway, most expect Trump to sign the waiver – albeit a few days late – within the week.
But this time, Israel may receive a valuable consolation prize. Furious speculation has swirled around a Trump announcement planned for Wednesday in which he is expected to announce that the US will officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
While possibly less incendiary than actually moving the embassy, recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish State’s capital would represent a major shift in US policy and have possible serious implications for any peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as risk sparking violence against Israel and globally.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has told American officials that if Trump makes the announcement, it will immediately back out of any US-brokered peace negotiations with Israel. The PA has long demanded East Jerusalem as the capital for a possible future state, and would see American recognition of a united Israeli Jerusalem as a betrayal and likely a call to war.
In addition to preemptive diplomatic attacks – the PA is marshalling its allies against the announcement, convening an emergency meeting of the Arab League and frantically calling world leaders – Israel’s Palestinian and Arab neighbors are threatening violence and terror should Trump recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
A PA spokesman warned that “the world will pay the price” for a change in Jerusalem’s status, while Palestinian terror group Hamas called for an “intifada”, or terror uprising, against Israel.
“We call on the Palestinian people to stand as an impenetrable floodgate and a tall wall against this decision and renew the Jerusalem intifada,” the terror said in a statement on Saturday.
At the same time, the State Department has advised US embassies around the world to brace for violent Arab and Muslim protests in the wake of the announcement.
In fact, several Arab leaders have ominously warned that the policy change could spark mass protests and terror attacks. According to Politico, two classified cables have been sent to US embassies and consulates warning them of potential demonstrations and recommending that they increase security in the coming days.