On Monday, December 4, the Trump administration is required to inform Congress whether it has decided to keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv, or move it to Jerusalem. It’s not a unique event. It is, in fact, the result of the constitutional separation of powers, where Congress may be fiercely supporting an executive move, but the executive retains the right not to.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed by the 104th Congress on October 23, 1995, demands initiating and funding the relocation of the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no later than May 31, 1999. Should the move not take place, Congress shall withhold 50% of the funds appropriated to the State Department specifically for “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad” until the United States Embassy in Jerusalem had officially opened.
The president at the time, Bill Clinton, did not obey Congress, which could have created a constitutional crisis – and one thing Bill Clinton did not need was another one of those. So Congress amended the Embassy Act: Beginning on October 1, 1998, the president may suspend the budget penalty threat against the State Dept. for a period of six months if he so wishes, and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States. And so, since 1998, the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv has been suspended by the sitting President every six months.
During Thursday’s State Department press briefing, Spokesperson Heather Nauert said about the embassy move, “The President has said that he has given serious consideration to the matter, and we’re looking at it with great care.” When pressed some more, she said, “The Secretary [of State] is talking to the White House about that matter, and I know we’re having a lot of conversations about that as well. But again, I want to underscore that no decision has been made yet.”
Nevertheless, since about Tuesday the press both in Jerusalem and Washington has been exchanging rumors that the Trump administration is planning to formally recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, to be followed by moving the US Embassy from the shores of the Mediterranean to the mountains of Jerusalem.
Ha’aretz on Thursday reported that the State Dept. is already updating its embassies around the globe about the planned move, so US ambassadors can inform their host governments, as well as, wherever necessary, prepare for Benghazi-style responses in certain countries.
Unnamed White House officials are saying that President Trump is going to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and even announce he plans to move the embassy, but keep it in Tel Aviv for now. For some reason, the administration believes this would be an easier frog for the PA and Gaza Arabs to swallow.