Top officials at the State Department, Department of Defense and the US intelligence community are urging the White House not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, warning that such a decision would be harmful to the peace process and carry broader regional risks, a senior administration official and several US officials told CNN.
The pushback comes as President Donald Trump mulls the possibility of changing US policy toward Jerusalem and moving the US embassy there.
The warnings from US officials across government agencies — including from some inside the West Wing — add to the steady stream of cautionary advice Gulf state diplomats and top Arab officials have shared with Trump and top White House advisers.
Despite those warnings, some of Trump’s top advisers are urging him to make good on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announce plans to move the embassy there during his visit next week, and Trump has yet to reach a decision, two White House officials confirmed.
Trump promised during his presidential campaign to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital and remarked on the pledge in an interview the day before his inauguration, saying: “You know, I’m not a person who breaks promises.”
Since his inauguration, Trump has faced a flood of warnings from top Arab diplomats and a personal appeal from Jordan’s King Abdullah to not move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Those cautioning against the embassy move warn that such a decision could trigger uproar in the Palestinian territories and across the Arab world and add another obstacle in the already-complicated path to peace. Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and past peace proposals have proposed splitting the city between East and West Jerusalem, or creating an internationally governed city.
Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, which called on the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there. But since then, every US president has signed a waiver every six months as authorized under the law to delay the move for national security reasons. Trump would need to sign the waiver by June 1 to preserve the status quo.
Officials are also considering a lesser announcement outlining a US vision for the future of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without taking any immediate action, designed to help Trump save face on his campaign pledge.
David Friedman, the newly minted US ambassador to Israel who has long argued for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and was slated to begin living and working in Jerusalem from the start of his tenure, is expected to begin his post this week working out of the US embassy in Tel Aviv, according to sources familiar with his plans.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted at the internal debate over Jerusalem during an appearance Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
Tillerson said Trump has taken a “deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all interested parties in the region, and understanding, in the context of the peace initiative, what impact would such a move have.”
“The President has recently expressed his view that he wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine,” Tillerson said. “And so I think in large measure the President is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process.”
Tillerson also appeared to suggest Israel might view the embassy move as “perhaps a distraction.”
After a Fox News reporter said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Trump against the embassy move, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office called those claims false and pointed to readouts of Netanyahu’s White House visit February 17 that said Netanyahu supported the move.
One of the quotes reads, “The PM was asked about the embassy and explained [that moving it] would not lead to bloodshed in the region, as some were trying to intimidate [President Trump] into believing.” Another says, more simply: “The embassy — the PM supports moving it.”
Trump has said he hopes to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table to reach a final status agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has already met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and will meet with the two leaders again during his first foreign trip at the end of this week, when he will depart for Saudi Arabia and Israel.