Trump to Keep Embassy in Tel Aviv, but Recognize Jerusalem as Capital

WASHINGTON — President Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but not to move the American Embassy there for now, people briefed on the deliberations said on Friday, a halfway gesture intended to fulfill a campaign pledge while not derailing his peace initiative.

Mr. Trump is expected to announce the decision in a speech next Wednesday, these people said, though they cautioned that the president had not yet formally signed off on it and that the details of the plan could shift.

Those details, experts warned, are fiendishly complicated. The diplomatic status of Jerusalem is one of the world’s most contested issues, with Israel and the Palestinians claiming it as their capital. Its holy sites are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and any change in its status would have vast repercussions across the Middle East and other Islamic-majority countries worldwide.

Mr. Trump promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv as one of his first acts as president — a pledge that was popular with his evangelical supporters as well as with powerful Jewish donors, like the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

American presidents must sign a national security waiver every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. In June, Mr. Trump deferred a decision to move it to Jerusalem, under pressure from Arab leaders, who warned that it would ignite protests, and from advisers, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who worried that it could strangle the administration’s attempt to foster peace in the generations-long dispute.

With another deadline looming next Monday, Mr. Trump is expected to sign an order keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv. But he will couple that with a statement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital — something that no president, Republican or Democrat, has done since the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Given the extreme sensitivities surrounding Jerusalem, Middle East experts said Mr. Trump’s plan was fraught with risk. Even after extensive consultations with Arab leaders, which the White House has not done, such a move could provoke volatile reactions.

“The devil is in the details of what they announce,” said Martin S. Indyk, who served as American ambassador to Israel under President Bill Clinton. “If this is not framed properly, far from resolving this issue, it will land the administration in even hotter water.”

Among the questions, Mr. Indyk said, are whether Mr. Trump will restrict recognition to West Jerusalem, whether he will mention Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem and how he will deal with Jerusalem’s status as a holy city — a factor that could determine whether Saudi Arabia supports or abandons his peace project.

News of Mr. Trump’s decision came amid fresh disclosures about how, even before he took office, he worked closely with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scuttle a United Nations Security Council resolution critical of Israel’s settlement policy — subverting then-President Barack Obama, who had decided to allow a vote to go ahead.

Documents filed in connection with the guilty plea of Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, revealed that on Dec. 22, 2016, a “very senior member” of Mr. Trump’s transition team instructed Mr. Flynn to contact foreign officials, including from Russia, “to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.”

Lawyers identified the senior transition official as Mr. Kushner. Russia rebuffed Mr. Flynn’s request and voted for the resolution, which passed after the United States abstained.

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