After reports suggesting the move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could come as soon as this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that the Administration is only beginning to consider the relocation.
The move has long been a priority of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and even the consideration of the shift has been condemned by Palestinian leaders, who also claim Jerusalem as the capital of a potential future state.
“We are at the early stages of this decisionmaking process,” Spicer told reporters. When pressed if he could commit that at the end of Trump’s first term that the embassy would be moved, Spicer replied, “If it was already a decision, we wouldn’t be going through a process.”
While a presidential candidate last March, Trump indicated, however, that he was already set on the idea, saying he would move the embassy to Jerusalem. “Fairly quickly,” he told CNN. “I mean, it’s a process, but fairly quickly. I mean, the fact is, I would like to see it moved, and I would like to see it in Jerusalem.”
The announcement from Spicer comes barely 24 hours after Trump spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday for the first time as President. In separate statements to the media on the call, both sides described the call positively, but included no mention of the embassy issue.
In December, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway indicated that Trump still supported the move. “He made that very clear during the campaign,” Conway told radio host Hugh Hewitt last month. “And as President-elect, I’ve heard him repeat it several times, privately if not publicly.”
Trump follows both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in publicly expressing support for the embassy move during the campaign, before delaying it at the behest of national-security leaders and Middle East experts as detrimental to the peace process.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Senators he believes Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel and deferred to the Secretary of State on whether it should be moved.
“The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that’s where all their government people are,” he testified. The issue did not come up during the confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominee to head the State Department, Rex Tillerson.
Trump faces a June 1 deadline to weigh in formally on the subject when the final six-month Obama waiver of the Jerusalem Embassy Act expires.