WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is expected to recognize “the historic and modern reality” that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel” on Wednesday afternoon, senior White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
The officials said Trump’s announcement will not touch specifically on the status of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinian Authority plans to mark as its capital as part of a two-state solution.
“President Trump also recognizes the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations of such an agreement. President Trump emphasizes the status quo for the Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif,” said one official.
They said Trump continues to support a two-state solution if that is what the parties decide on. The officials said Trump told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he believes the U.S. can still be an arbiter in the peace process.
“In taking this action, President Trump fulfills a major campaign promise that had been made by a number of previous presidential candidates,” said one official, who noted that nine successive U.S. Congresses had passed a resolution calling on the president to abide by the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.
That bill directed the U.S. to begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv, where all foreign embassies are located, to Jerusalem, where Israel’s government is oriented. It gave the State Department until 1999 to open the embassy or lose half its funding for building acquisition and maintenance abroad.
Claiming Congressional overreach, presidents since Bill Clinton have passed waivers delaying the move every six months.
Trump is still expected to sign the waiver, the officials said. They said he has instructed the State Department to begin moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and compared the process to that behind the soon to open U.S. embassy in London. They said it would take 3 to 4 years to build the facility, and there was not an expectation to finish the project within Trump’s four-year term.
They said the Jerusalem Embassy Act penalty could be changed with Congressional action or it will cease to have effect when the new embassy opens in Jerusalem.
Officials said the “policy of ambiguity” about Jerusalem has not worked.
“I think that’s fundamentally where his opinion has been on this subject all along, including before he became president. And, he’s encouraged by the process that his peace team has made so far. I know a lot of that process isn’t visible,” said one official, including that the details of the secret talks will be released at the right time.
The officials said Trump believed that now was the right time to make the declaration, that it is the right step to take. One said, “the president is very optimistic.”
The officials brushed off warnings from U.S. allies and other world leaders, stating that walking away doesn’t create peace, as well as global force protection measures ordered for U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, stating that it’s the departments’ roles to keep their people safe.