Endorsement of a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could follow US President Donald Trump’s pending announcement that he is relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, three US officials said in a late night briefing to the media on Tuesday.
They spoke in advance of Trump’s expected Wednesday afternoon speech, in which he plans to overturn almost 70 years of US policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
“US policy is going to be honest about the fact, a seven-decade-old fact, that Jerusalem is [Israel’s] capital and bring US policy fundamentally in-line with that fact,” the officials said.
To underscore that new policy understanding Trump will also directed the State Department to create a plan to relocate the embassy to a site in Jerusalem, the officials said, adding that it could take at least four years to execute the move.
“We view this as a recognition of historic reality,” the officials said, explaining that “Jerusalem had been the capital of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith” in ancient times.
In modern reality “it has been the seat of Israel’s government and legislature since the foundation of the state in 1948,” the officials said.
They pointed out that such a step was in keeping with the 1995 Congressional order, known as the Jerusalem Recognition and Embassy Act, which mandates the embassy’s relocation.
All past presidents have skirted the issued, opting instead to sign a six-month waiver delaying the move.
For technical reasons involving funding, Trump will have to sign that waiver until such time as the doors of a new embassy open in Jerusalem, the official said.
The White House plans to push to amend the legislation, so that a waiver would no longer be necessary.
Relocating the embassy to Jerusalem was one of the president’s major campaign promises, and he is now making good on that pledge, the officials said.
But unlike the 1995 Congressional Act, which recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s unified capital, Trump’s declaration is not meant to determine the boundaries of the city, which would still be subject to negotiation during the peace process, the officials said.
“The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations,” the officials said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have insisted that all of Jerusalem must remain part of sovereign Israel in any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians in turn insist that the eastern portion of Jerusalem, including the Old City where the Western Wall is located, is the future capital of their state.
The officials did not disclose whether the embassy would be in the western or eastern party of the city, stating only that “the directive is to find an appropriate site.”
The US’s new Jerusalem policy will not change “the status quo with respect to the holy sites” in the city, the officials clarified.
Since taking office Trump has spoken of making the ultimate deal, Israeli-Palestinian peace, but has not yet spoken of a Palestinian state or used the language of two-states.
“Trump is prepared to support a two state solution,” the officials said, telling reporters that in Wednesday’s speech, “you are likely to hear an acknowledgement of that.”
Such support, however is contingent on the parties to the negotiations accepting that principle, the officials said.
Trump was not deterred by the possibility that the Jerusalem announcement would foil his fledgling peace process or lead to violence against the US or Israel, the officials said.
“For a long time the US position was that ambiguity or lack of acknowledgment would advance peace,” the officials said.
After 22-years it’s clear that this policy is not working, the officials said.
The parties involved wanted to continue with the peace process regardless of the new US stance on Jerusalem, the officials said.
There is no benefit to “walking away” nor would that “advance the cause of peace” because the best way to achieve peace “is to remain engaged,” the officials said.
Trump stressed his commitment to the peace process in his phone conversation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, telling him that peace was “real” and “within reach,” the officials said.
He could not have been more clear, forthright and optimistic during his talk with Abbas, the officials said.
“The President very much wants to see the success of the peace process. He understands the Palestinians aspirations. He knows what they want and he is trying to find a way to achieve those goals,” the officials said.
To date, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been held hostage to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The eighty-seven countries with embassies in Israel have placed them in the Tel Aviv area, rather than Jerusalem.
Just last Thursday 151 UN member states voted in the General Assembly to disavow Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Earlier this year, Moscow recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, becoming the first country to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty on a portion of the city.
Trump’s announcement, however, carries more weight because the US is a Western power and has historically been the leading broker of the peace process.