President Trump will say Wednesday that the U.S. considers Jerusalem the political capital of Israel, but the American embassy won’t move to the contested city anytime soon.
Administration officials told reporters Tuesday evening that Trump believes his afternoon speech, set for 1 p.m. at the White House, will recognize reality and won’t derail peace efforts by his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.
One official said it will be “a matter of some years, it won’t be months, it won’t be quick” before the U.S. embassy moves from Tel Aviv, and that the capital designation does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem.
“It will take some time to find a site, address security concerns, design a new facility, fund a new facility, and build it — so this is not an instantaneous process,” the official said.
Another official said the embassy may not be relocated before the end of Trump’s four-year term in office, which has about three years and one month remaining.
“As a practical matter, no embassy is constructed today anywhere in the world in shorter than three or four years — no embassy,” the second official said.
In the meantime, Trump will sign waivers every six months for the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which requires a funding cut to the State Department unless the U.S. embassy moves or the president signs a waiver.
The second official told reporters he disagreed with a suggestion that the Trump administration could, if it wanted, simply create a new plaque for the U.S. consulate building in Jerusalem declaring it to be the embassy tomorrow.
“We don’t just put a plaque on a door and open a mission,” the official said. “There are major security, structural concerns and very strict guidelines anywhere in the world that have to be followed.”
Officials said declaring Jerusalem to be Israel's capital does not change U.S. views on other issues, such as the legality of Jewish settlements on land taken from Jordan in 1967.
Officials said Trump consulted many world leaders and that “he believed moving forward on the basis of an acknowledged truth” would be beneficial to a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by separating a symbolic issue.
“We are leaving space for the Palestinians for this peace process to move forward,” one of the officials said.
Another official suggested that Kushner’s peace efforts have achieved greater progress than publicly known.
“A lot of that progress is invisible,” the official said, and “will become known when the time is right.”
The officials expressed concern about the safety of Americans, amid fear of violent reactions across Muslim-majority countries, but did not describe in detail plans to mitigate risk.