Of embassy move, Trump says 'we're looking at it with great care'
In a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump spoke cautiously about the future location of America's embassy in Israel.
During the presidential campaign, Trump told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, "We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem."
But when asked by a reporter at the press conference if he would fulfill that promise and if so, when, Trump was less definitive.
"I'd love to see that happen," Trump said on Feb. 15, 2017. "We're looking at it very, very strongly. We're looking at it with great care, great care, believe me. And we'll see what happens. Okay?"
Trump could have said "Yes," to the first part of the question and left the moving date open. He didn't.
We reached out to the White House for an explanation and a spokesman repeated that the administration is taking a hard look at the issue.
Two days before the press conference, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee telegraphed that the president might hold back. In an interview with Politico, Corker said the administration had been ready to order the embassy to move as soon as Trump took office. But that view shifted.
"The one plus in the Iran deal is it brought the Arab community close to Israel," Corker said. "When you've got a situation like that, do you really want to destroy this alliance that is unprecedented and is real?"
Jerusalem is disputed territory. Most of the city lay inside Israel's border but during the 1967 War, it annexed East Jerusalem. Many nations don't accept that status. For the United States to unilaterally throw its weight behind the idea that Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli state would inflame the Arab world. Corker argued that now was not the time to upset Israel's Arab neighbors.
Trump held back from promising to move the embassy. But he did say it was still an option. We rate this promise as In the Works.
Move U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump praised Israel as one of the United States' greatest allies, which is why he is promising to move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
"We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel," Trump said after promising to move the embassy at his speech for American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable."
WHY HE'S PROMISING IT
On the campaign trail, Trump praised Israel, and sees moving the embassy as an important part in making Jerusalem the official capital of Israel.
In 1995, Congress passed a law mandating the embassy be moved to Jerusalem by 1999. But U.S. presidents have signed waivers to suspend the move, amid fears it would destabilize peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
See Figure 1 on PolitiFact.com
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
Because of the 1995 law, Trump could initiate the move on his own by not signing waivers like former presidents have done.
Logistically speaking, moving the embassy would not be a problem, said Ido Oren, a political science professor at the University of Florida.
He said construction may take a few years but in the meantime a section of the existing U.S. consulate in West Jerusalem could be designated an embassy. He also said office space could be rented elsewhere for a few years.
The real problem is the politics surrounding the move, which could potentially derail his promise.
WHAT'S STANDING IN HIS WAY
Chuck Freilich, an International Security Program senior fellow at Harvard University, said moving the embassy could lead to an uproar in the Arab and Muslim worlds, if not done as part of some agreed framework, like a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Oren said that might be enough to keep Trump from following through.
"Some of his advisers as well as the professional diplomats of the State Department will likely warn him that such a move might trigger a new Palestinian uprising, further antagonize the Arab and Muslim worlds, undermine the objective of fighting the Islamic State, etc.," he said.
A POSSIBLE TIMELINE
Trump could trigger a move by failing to sign a waiver to the 1995 law. The current U.S. consulate in Jerusalem could serve as a temporary embassy facility.