FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun(reuters_tickers)
By Matt Spetalnick and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump is expected this week to delay relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, U.S. officials and a diplomatic source said on Wednesday, despite his campaign pledge to go ahead with the controversial move.
With a deadline for a decision looming, Trump is likely to continue his predecessors' policy of signing a six-month waiver overriding a 1995 law requiring that the embassy be transferred to Jerusalem, an action that would have complicated his efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the sources said.
Trump has yet to make his decision official but is required by law to act by Friday, according to one U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Barring a last-minute surprise, Trump is expected to renew the waiver. His administration intends to make clear, however, that Trump remains committed to the promise he made during the 2016 presidential campaign, though it will not set a specific timetable for doing so, officials said.
Asked whether Trump would sign the waiver, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday:
"Once we have a decision, we'll put it out," adding there would be "something very soon on that."
While there have been divisions among Trump's aides on the issue, the view that appears to have prevailed is that the United States should keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for now to avoid angering the Palestinians, Arab governments and Western allies while the president seeks to nurture peace efforts.
Trump avoided any public mention of a potential embassy move during his visit to Israel and the West Bank in May. Despite that, most experts are sceptical of Trump’s chances for achieving a peace deal that eluded other U.S. presidents.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognised internationally. Israel considers all of the city its indivisible capital.
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Jerusalem is home to holy sites of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.
Shifting the U.S. Embassy would be widely seen as Washington's recognition of the Israeli position on Jerusalem's status, which successive U.S. administrations have said must be decided in negotiations between the two sides.
Former President Barack Obama renewed the waiver in December, setting off a six-month clock for Trump. CNN was first to report that Trump was expected to sign the waiver.
On the campaign trail, Trump's pro-Israel rhetoric raised expectations that he would act quickly to move the embassy. But after he took office in January, the issue lost momentum as he met Arab leaders who warned it would be hard to rejuvenate long-stalled peace efforts unless he acted as a fair mediator.
Some of Trump's top aides have pushed for him to keep his campaign promise, not only because it would be welcomed by most Israelis but to satisfy the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped him win the presidency. The State Department, however recommended against an embassy move, one U.S. official said.
"The president is still committed to moving the embassy," one U.S. official said. "It's not a question of whether but when it will be done."
The Jerusalem Embassy Act passed by Congress in 1995 mandating relocation of embassy to Jerusalem allows the president to waive the requirement in accordance with U.S. national security interests.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Sandra Maler)