President Trump’s decision to sign a waiver postponing the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has put many Trump supporters in the pro-Israel community in an awkward position. Trump’s promise to move the embassy was a key selling point to Israel advocates before the elections, and helped build strong support within the Israeli government.
Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking a cautious approach, trying to straddle between his political base, which feels strongly about Jerusalem, and his wish to maintain good relations with the White House. “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,” Netanyahu said in a carefully worded statement June 1, making sure not to sound too critical of Trump.
Netanyahu set the tone for others on the right who were struggling with their response. Israel Hayom, the Israeli newspaper owned by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson and known for its support for Trump and Netanyahu, sought to find a silver lining in the decision. The paper’s editors chose the headline “Trump Signs a Waiver Postponing Relocation of Embassy to Jerusalem,” adding immediately that administration officials stressed that President Trump is committed to eventually honoring his campaign promise.
Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israel organization in America, followed the same line, expressing disappointment with Trump’s decision while remaining “hopeful that he will fulfill his campaign pledge and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” CUFI, which lobbied forcefully for relocating the embassy, stressed that “the president knows that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel and we strongly believe that the location of our embassy should reflect that reality.”
Further to the right, disappointment with Trump was visible.
A White House statement justified Trump’s move by saying that delaying the embassy relocation would “maximize the chance of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.” But Naftali Bennett, leader of Israel’s Jewish Home party, argued that “delaying the U.S. Embassy move will, in fact, have an opposite affect and damage the prospect of a lasting peace by nurturing false expectations among the Palestinians regarding the division of Jerusalem, which will never happen.”
But whatever criticism Trump may have sustained from the right, he made up for it with surprising praise from the left. The dovish organization J Street welcomed Trump’s decision to sign the waiver, which it described as a needed move. “We are glad that the administration has heeded the advice of veteran officials in the diplomatic and security communities and decided to maintain the prudent policy of its predecessors on this issue,” the organization said in a statement.
And in yet another sign of changing times, the Palestinian Authority also welcomed Trump’s decision. Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian representative in Washington, said the president’s move “gives peace a chance.”
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman