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Trump Not Moving Embassy to Jerusalem to 'Maximize the Chances' of Peace Deal

President Trump shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after making statements to the press May 23, 2017, in Bethlehem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Trump announced today that he won’t be moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem right now because forging a peace deal with the Palestinians, who strongly oppose the move, is a priority.

Trump promised during the presidential campaign that he would relocate the U.S. diplomatic facility. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he told AIPAC in a 2016 address.

After getting into the Oval Office, Trump said he’d study the issue. “I’d love to see that happen,” Trump said at a February press conference alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “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. OK?”

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited at the beginning of May, Trump did not answer a question from the press pool about moving the embassy. Trump said he wanted “to support [Abbas] in being the Palestinian leader who signs his name to the final and most important peace agreement that brings safety, stability, prosperity to both peoples and to the region.”

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 requires that the president move the embassy to Jerusalem, but each president has invoked the law’s national security waiver every six months since. Today was the deadline for the White House to decide whether to move or sign a waiver, and Trump took the path of his predecessors.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement that “no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the president’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance.”

“President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests,” Spicer added. “But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”

Haaretz reported that Netanyahu had asked Trump not to sign the waiver during Trump’s recent visit to the Holy Land.

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement today that they are “disappointed” by the waiver yet “appreciate today’s expression of President Trump’s friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future.”

“Israel’s consistent position is that the American embassy, like the embassies of all countries with whom we have diplomatic relations, should be in Jerusalem, our eternal capital,” the statement said. “Maintaining embassies outside the capital drives peace further away by helping keep alive the Palestinian fantasy that the Jewish people and the Jewish state have no connection to Jerusalem.”

Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy head of Abbas’ Fatah party and a member of its Central Committee, told Voice of Palestine radio today that the move will never happen, according to WAFA news agency.

Al-Aloul “said that this reflects the success of the Palestinian leadership in influencing the American administration and making it more understanding of the Palestinian position,” WAFA reported, adding “the Fatah official said that the world understands that the Israeli government is not a government of peace, but a government that seeks to perpetuate the occupation.”

“This is in line with the long-held U.S. policy and the international consensus and it gives peace a chance,” Hussam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the United States, said in a statement. “We are ready to start the consultation process with the U.S. administration. We are serious and genuine about achieving a just and lasting peace.”

According to London-based Qatari news site al-Araby al-Jadid, Abbas told an executive committee meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization that his Bethlehem meeting with Trump was “uncomfortable” as the president started yelling at him, but the Palestinian Authority leader said he tried to convince Trump that the Israelis were telling him lies.

Trump reportedly shouted at Abbas, “You tricked me in D.C.! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement.”

Abbas said he told Trump that the Israeli videos were edited to make him look bad. “You have the CIA, ask them to analyze the film clips and you’ll discover that that they were taken out of context or fabricated with the aim of inciting against the Palestinians,” Abbas told the president.