President Trump will visit Israel Monday as part of his first international trip in office and what could be his first major test as a negotiator.
President Trump desires to reach a final resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been ongoing since Israel’s founding in 1948. The Palestinians and Israelis remain at odds over a range of issues, and though many have tried, none have succeeded in ending the tension.
The major issue going into the visit is President Trump’s campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
President Trump told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March of 2016 that Jerusalem is the “eternal capital of the Jewish people.” He also stated he would “send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.” President Trump scaled back on the Jerusalem rhetoric after his election, and both The Times of Israel and CNN reported his advisors encouraged him to drop the plan altogether.
These reports were seemingly confirmed Wednesday when a senior White House official told Bloomberg the plans to move the embassy were scrapped.
This is unsurprising given Jerusalem’s recent history.
Both Israel and the Palestinians have claimed Jerusalem as their capital since Israel’s founding. Initially, the Israelis only controlled the western section of the city, while East Jerusalem was held by Jordan.
However, this changed during the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel captured East Jerusalem and its Arab population after pushing back the Jordanian military. Israel occupied the area from then on, officially annexing it in 1980, an act condemned by the international community.
White House officials fear moving the embassy would derail any hopes for new peace talks. Furthermore, members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization have stated outright they will refuse to recognize Israel further if the embassy does relocate.
Contrarily, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants Trump to deliver on his promise.
Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement Sunday urging the administration to make good by “correcting an historical injustice and shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.” President Netanyahu supports the move, and a failure to follow through on Trump’s part could worsen relations that are already rocky due to Trump allegedly leaking Israeli intel to the Russians last week.
Trump could simply delay relocating the embassy as an alternative. In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which states the U.S. must recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there.
However, each president since has signed a waiver every six months delaying the move; President Trump has until June 1 to do so, and a delay would likely frustrate Netanyahu further.
Whatever the outcome, President Trump’s advisors might have other reasons to worry about future talks. While not confirmed, sources close to the trip report that the president is planning to visit the Western Wall, a first for a sitting president.
The Western Wall is the last remaining portion of Herod’s Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., after a failed Jewish rebellion. The temple housed the Holy of Holies, which devout Jews believe marked the very presence of God on Earth, making it the holiest place in Judaism.
But just above the Western Wall sits the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest shrines in Islam. Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad was taken into heaven by God on a night journey from this spot, specifically the rock beneath the dome.
Both shrines lie within the contested area of East Jerusalem, and if reports are true, it could be interpreted as Trump recognizing Israel’s control of the region. This alone could infuriate Palestinians as much as an embassy in Jerusalem would.
Whatever happens in Israel next week, one thing is clear; Trump will be under scrutiny from all sides, and his conduct could affect how both allies and enemies deal with the U.S. going forward.
William Hadden is a contributor at Politicsay. He graduated from Belmont University with a degree in Journalism with a minor in Audio Video Production. William writes on American domestic issues, as well as international political news.