According to Trump’s statements on the campaign train, the first day of his presidency was supposed to see the U.S. embassy in Israel move from Tel Aviv, the nation’s capital, to Jerusalem, which Israel shares with Palestine as part of their tense, unhappy coexistence. It’s now day 133, however, and Trump has inked paperwork to delay the move, citing that his controversial campaign promise would endanger peace in the Middle East.
As TIME reported last September, Trump met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump Tower to discuss foreign policy, and he apparently stated that he would break with the diplomatic tradition held by most of the world that recognizes Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital. Instead, he would recognize Jerusalem by moving the embassy there.
This wasn’t a new idea or one particularly unique to Trump. As the Independent explains, the decision goes back to a 1995 congressional ruling that Israel’s capital should be Jerusalem. But every president since then — now including President Trump — has delayed the move every six months by signing on the dotted line.
According to Politico, it was Trump’s recent trip to the Middle East that swayed him into delaying the move. Numerous leaders, including Palestinian officials, told Trump that establishing the embassy in Jerusalem would harm the U.S.’s ability to help broker the “ultimate deal” in peace talks. Politico spoke with Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security, a bi-partisan D.C. thinktank with ties to the Obama administration. Goldenberg indicated that delaying the move was not only a matter of sacrificing a pawn to keep the larger chess game going, but that Trump himself isn’t particularly committed to any particular embassy location. “The Jerusalem embassy issue is more for Pence’s evangelical base than the Trump base,” said Goldenberg.
Furthermore, Politico notes that the Trump administration may very well be betting that breaking a relatively minor campaign promise like the embassy move could quickly be overshadowed by their upcoming withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. That would be a much bigger campaign promise for the President to fulfill, and one with support from not only his base but the broader GOP.
On the other hand, there has been other big news recently that could have conceivably overshadowed the embassy decision, such as the House’s subpoena-apalooza last night as the probe continues to try and unravel whatever ties the Trump administration has with Russia. Given recent revelations that Trump spilled information he got from Israel to Russia, the embassy issue might not be so far removed from the probe as it first appears.