During his first week in office, US President Donald Trump has displayed remarkable alacrity in keeping promises made during his campaign. He has signed executive orders to advance the construction of a wall between the US and Mexico, frozen governmental hiring, halted Federal funding for military abortions, moved toward dismantling his predecessor's national healthcare plan and more.
But he is prevaricating about his steadfast pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In a televised interview on the US FOX network yesterday, he told journalist Sean Hannity that when it comes to moving the Embassy, "I don't want to talk about it yet. It's too early."
Why is he stalling?
Probably because Jerusalem is asking him to.
When former CIA director David Petraeus was in town this week, he said it was a private visit. Notably, however, it included a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Apparently, Lieberman had a message for Trump about how Israel would like to see the new President proceed in the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians.
For years now, calls by Prime Minister Netanyahu to sit down with PA President Abbas, and do so without preconditions, have been rejected out of hand. Abbas's game has been to achieve statehood by persuading the United Nations to declare it by fiat, or at the very least, set down strict preconditions that Israel would not be allowe to negotiate.
It is a gamble that has almost worked, and it still might. UN Resolution 2334, passed by the UN Security Council just over a month ago, did, in fact, state unnegotiable preconditions, including eastern Jerusalem as the capital city of a new, sovereign Palestinian state.
As Israel immediately protested, this would place its holiest site, the Temple Mount, under Palestinian jurisdiction. As a practical matter, UN Resolution 2334 is not legally binding on Israel. But it has tremendous political power, nonetheless. Representing the will of the international community, flaunting it easily could become justification for harsh measures against the Jewish State, including boycotts, sanctions and even military force.
But then, one week ago today, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. During his first seven days in office, he has taken steps to withdraw large amounts of funding for the UN. It has even threatened to withdraw all funding if the institution ever chose to grant full membership to the Palestinian Authority. Right now, it is only one of two entities that has been granted Permanent Observer status. The only other one is the Vatican in Rome.
Trump has also invited Netayanu to Washington for a visit in early February. The telephone conversation with the invitation was "very warm," according to Netanyahu. That warmth came hours after Netanyahu, in a dramatic reversal of public ambiguity about Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank), announced his intention to build in eastern Jerusalem "without restriction." Two days later Netanyahu and Lieberman announced their authorization for 2,500 new homes in settlement communities.
Clearly, Netanyahu was confident that Trump would not object. And, in fact, he has not.
The impression here is that Trump is good at taking advice from experts that he trusts. Netanyahu, it seems, is one of these.
It is very possible that Netanyahu, either directly or by proxy, has asked Trump to hold off on moving the US Embassy.
If so, the reason is because the new approach that Jerusalem wants Washington to take toward peace might be jeopardized by the move.
What Lieberman told Petraeus earlier this week is that Israel would like to negotiate a broader peace agreement with its de facto Arab state allies. In various forums, Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that the Jewish State has developed strong if unofficial ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and perhaps Turkey. According to his claims, their interest in working with Israel is motivated by a common desire to thwart Iran's bid to establish a Shiite Islamic Caliphate that seeks to engulf the Middle East and more.
Putting two and two together, Jerusalem has decided that peace with the Palestinians will never come by way of bilateral negotiations with Ramallah. A different path, if not a better one, has presented itself in Israel's growing ties with neighboring Arab states.
Hence, according to YNet News, Netanyahu's government has concluded that "Resolving conflict will come only as part of a comprehensive regional settlement."
Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would likely monkey it up, and do so before an attempt can even be made to try this new path.
What Trump told FOX news in yesterday's interview is that, in spite of his stall about moving the Embassy, the US relationship with Israel "was repaired as soon as I [took office]."
One of the biggest reasons for making such a claim, is that, unlike Obama, Trump respects Netanyahu and is heeding his advice - including counsel to hold off on move the US Embassy.
From Jerusalem's perspective, there are bigger issues at stake.