President Donald Trump will announce Wednesday that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that the State Department will begin a process to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Trump will first announce that the “United States government recognizes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” according to one of three senior administration officials who spoke with reporters on Tuesday.
The officials conveyed that the change is a recognition of “reality” — both the historic reality that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith since ancient times; and the modern reality that the city is the seat of government for Israel, housing its legislature, supreme court, prime minister, and executive agencies.
Second, Trump will direct the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. One official explained that the directive to the State Department requires it to develop a plan for this “with a minimum additional burden on taxpayers.” It was noted that there are approximately 1,000 personnel in Tel Aviv, and that it would take some time to find an appropriate site in Jerusalem. One official stated that despite hopes for an immediate move, it was a “practical impossibility to move the embassy tomorrow.”
“It will take some time to find a site, address security concerns, design a new facility, fund a new facility…[and] build it,” said one of the senior officials.
The official went on to address the issue of the semi-annual presidential waiver that has allowed presidents to delay moving the embassy over the past 22 years and several administrations of both parties. The deadline to sign the waiver passed on Monday night; however, the official stated that President Trump will sign a new waiver as the process begins to move the embassy “in order to avoid fairly significant cuts to State Department’s funding that the law requires as a consequence.” One official stated that Trump will sign the waiver each six months until the embassy is opened.
Officials emphasized that the President would not specify a timeline for completing and opening the embassy, and explained that it would take years, not months.
When later pressed on a timeframe, one official said that he expected it would take no less than three to four years, as other U.S. embassies have taken at least that long to move. One remarked that the ongoing relocation of the U.S. embassy in London took eight years.
Pressed on whether the embassy would be moved within Trump’s current presidential term so that a potential subsequent administration could not overturn Trump’s decision, one official replied, “As a practical matter, no embassy is constructed today anywhere in the world in shorter than three to four years. No embassy.”
The official dismissed the possibility that a subsequent president could reverse the decision, adding that updates would be provided on progress toward planning, funding, and building a new embassy.
One read a statement declaring that Trump is fulfilling a major campaign promise by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He added that a number of previous presidential candidates had made the same promise but had declined to fulfill it. The official further stated that the move has broad bipartisan support in Congress, with the legislative body voting for the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 10 successive congresses. The Act was first passed in 1995.
In response to questions about whether Trump’s decision would set back negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, an official said: “Delaying the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has done nothing to achieve peace for more than two decades.”
Officials were also at pains to emphasize that no other issue would be affected by the new policy. Trump is “prepared to support a two-state solution to the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians if agreed to by the two parties,” the official stated. “President Trump also recognizes the specific boundaries in Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations of such an agreement.”
“President Trump reaffirms support for the status quo at the Temple Mount, Haram esh-Sharif,” the official continued.
The decision-making process had involved the President, the Cabinet and department principals. “This was a collaborative U.S. government position,” said one official later, in response to reporters’ questions.
Reporters were also told that “departments and agencies have developed a robust security plan” to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens and assets in case of violent protests against Trump’s decisions.
One official stated emphatically that President Trump has had “very detailed” discussions with Middle East leaders about his decisions on Jerusalem, and reiterated a strong commitment to peace.
President Trump will make his announcements at 1pm ET from the White House on Wednesday afternoon.