Israeli officials say Trump has led them astray by failing to follow through on repeated promises to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“For the record, we recognize Washington, D.C.,” said Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who now serves as deputy minister for diplomacy in the Netanyahu government. “We’re not going with Philadelphia. We’re not going with New York. We’re sticking with Washington, D.C. But that recognition is not reciprocated. It’s odd.”
For the last 60 years, U.S. policy has been to recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. The issue is so contentious that the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that Jerusalem-born Americans can’t list Israel as their birthplace on their passports.
Oren, a member of the centrist Kulanu party, said Trump had lost credibility with some Israelis who believed him when he promised during his campaign for the presidency to move the embassy. Oren said he understood that doing so would be controversial and would anger some Palestinians, but he thinks the repercussions will be greater if Trump backs down from his promise.
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“If it had been a one-off and he said it one time,” Oren said, the promise could be forgotten. “But he said it several times. It was a staggering campaign promise.”
The battle over the embassy is only one example of the issues that are testing Trump’s bond with the Netanyahu government.
Some Israeli officials were on edge after Trump allegedly disclosed highly classified intelligence gathered by Israeli officials to Russian officials. Even Trump’s visit Monday to one of Judaism’s holiest sites, the Western Wall, was complicated by Israeli reports that U.S. officials had told Netanyahu he should not join Trump because the wall, which was captured from Jordan in 1967, “isn’t your territory.”
“This is in the West Bank. It is a private visit by the president, and it’s not your business,” a U.S. official said last week, according to Israel’s Channel Two News.
The same news report quoted a White House spokesperson later saying the comments “do not reflect the U.S. position, and certainly not the president’s position.”
If you’ve made a commitment on policy in the Middle East you better stand by it or else you lose credibility.
Michael Orin, deputy minister for diplomacy in the Netanyahu government
Dogged by multiple scandals back home, Trump was celebrated Monday throughout his visit to Jerusalem. His wife, daughter and son-in-law joined him in visiting two of the holiest sites of Christianity and Judaism, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built, tradition has it, over the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Trump placed a note in the Western Wall, traditionally believed to be the remains of a vast temple built by the ruler Herod and destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.
“There is no city on Earth where you are more welcome than right here with us in Jerusalem,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
There were a few uncomfortable moments, though. Trump sought to rebut claims that he had damaged Israeli intelligence capabilities by revealing highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister earlier this month.
“Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” Trump said ahead of a bilateral session with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu dismissed reports that the government was concerned.
“Intelligence cooperation is terrific,” he said of the United States and Israel. “It’s never been better.”
The two also talked about confronting Iran. Trump accused former President Barack Obama of strengthening Iran’s capabilities.
“We gave them a lifeline, and we not only gave them a lifeline, we gave them wealth and prosperity. And we also gave them an ability to continue with terror. . . . No matter where we go we see the signs of Iran in the Middle East,” Trump said.
Still, Trump’s popularity among Israelis has dropped significantly since he took office in January. Only 56 percent of Israeli Jews consider Trump to be pro-Israel, a decline from the 79 percent who felt that way before the inauguration, according to a recent Jerusalem Post poll.
Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel under Obama, said Israelis had discovered that Trump was not turning out as they expected.
Not moving the embassy is a major source of irritation, however.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, last week urged Trump to move the embassy and warned him not to divide Jerusalem.
Oren knew of no parallels in history where one of two countries as closely aligned as the United States and Israel has refused to recognize the other’s capital.
For the last 60 years, U.S. policy has been to recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.
“The focus is on how upsetting it’d be to Palestinians if the United States recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish capital,” Oren said. “Think about how upsetting to us it is that the U.S. doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as our capital.”