During the US presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s team spoke often about moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but since taking office the contentious issue appears to have been put on the backburner.
Ahead of phone-call between Trump and the Israeli prime minister on Sunday, the White House did not respond to questions or requests to elaborate on initial discussions.
The reason could be because of the move’s potential destabilising effects on the peace process.
If the US were to relocate its embassy, it would be explicit recognition of Jerusalem belonging to Israel, preempting the results of any talks on a two-state solution.
The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already criticised the prospect of such an outcome, warning it could be explosive for the region.
Speaking in Ramallah last week he said:
“We hope (Trump) will not move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because Jerusalem from the Israeli point of view is a united city and this is not correct and illegal. Therefore, moving the embassy to any place will damage the peace process.”
The Israeli prime minister’s Arab media spokesman Ofir Gendelman refused to be answer euronews’ questions on the subject.
But Lenny Ben-David, Israel’s former Washington diplomat and now head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, played down the move as threat to the peace process.
“Trump will not waver, will not stop the law from being enacted, that’s the issue. Do I think he will do it? I believe he will,” said Ben-David. “It may actually be a process, a gradual process to bring that about. I don’t see it as an attempt to anger the Arab world or Palestinian. It need not hurt the peace process, but it gives the Palestinians an impetus to move ahead and say ‘we will negotiate over east Jerusalem’ rather than saying ‘we’re declaring war’.”
The incoming US ambassador has told Israeli media he intends to live in Jerusalem, but shifting the entire embassy with all its security, trade and cultural ties certainly won’t happen overnight.