WASHINGTON -- The White House says President Donald Trump has signed a waiver that will keep the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv for at least the next six months, saying the action will "maximize the chances" of reaching a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
A White House statement on June 1 added, however, that the decision was not "in any way a retreat" from Trump’s support for Israel and that the embassy move to Jerusalem will eventually occur.
Israel expressed disappointment at the decision, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issuing a statement that read, "Though Israel is disappointed that the embassy will not move at this time, we appreciate today's expression of President Trump's friendship to Israel and his commitment to moving the embassy in the future."
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, called Trump's decision an "important positive step" and said it indicates the United States is serious about the peace process.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians regard Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and declared all of the city as its capital, a move never recognized by the international community. Most countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump vowed to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there.
That angered Palestinians and their allies, and Trump later backed off the suggestion of an immediate move.
The waiver signed by the U.S. president basically blocks the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which authorized the embassy move to Jerusalem. The act included a clause that allowed a president to delay the move by signing a waiver based on national security.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama routinely signed the waiver every six months. Obama signed the most recent one in December, and it was due to expire June 1.
"While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 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," the White House said.
The statement said Trump made the 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."
"But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not that if the move happens, but only when," it added.