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Trump Considers Moving The U.S. Embassy In Israel To Jerusalem


President Trump has a big decision to make this week. He will decide whether to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. That would overturn decades of U.S. policy. But officials say Mr. Trump is considering it, and that has Palestinian officials alarmed. For more on this, we turn to NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks so much for speaking with us.


MARTIN: So the U.S. embassy is currently in Tel Aviv, which is about a 45-minute drive - Jerusalem - depending on the traffic. Remind us, if you would, about why the idea of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is such a sensitive issue.

ESTRIN: Well, there are competing claims to the city. Israel says Jerusalem is its capital. And that includes East Jerusalem, which Israel captured 50 years ago. The Palestinians say East Jerusalem is where they want to declare a future capital. Now, the U.S. position for decades has been that the status of the city should be resolved in peace talks. We're not putting the embassy to Israel in Jerusalem because that would be taking sides. So U.S. presidents have signed a waiver every six months delaying the embassy move.

MARTIN: So during the election campaign, Trump vowed that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem. But he ended up signing this waiver that you were just telling us about and delaying the move for six months. Now those six months are up. And he has to make a decision. Is he giving us any clues about what he's going to do?

ESTRIN: He's keeping us in suspense. A few days ago, U.S. officials suggested that Trump might delay moving the embassy again, but that he's considering doing something else which is unprecedented - declaring that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

It could be that the president sees this as a kind of halfway solution, you know? He doesn't move the embassy to Jerusalem. He doesn't anger his Arab allies. But he shows his evangelical supporters, his pro-Israel supporters that he is moving forward on an issue that's important to them.

MARTIN: So how are Israelis responding to this, and how are Palestinians responding to this?

ESTRIN: Israeli officials have repeatedly said that they want to see every country move its embassy to Jerusalem. Palestinians say recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital goes against their key demand, which is to establish a capital in East Jerusalem. So the Palestinian Authority president is going on a diplomatic offensive.

He, over the weekend, called the leaders of France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Tunisia to get their support on this. His intelligence chief traveled to Washington to meet with White House officials. The Palestinians are saying that if the U.S. sides with Israel on the issue of Jerusalem, it could endanger the peace process, and it could endanger America's role as peace negotiator.

MARTIN: So what does the Trump administration have to gain from such a controversial move on Jerusalem if he wants to get both sides back to the bargaining table?

ESTRIN: Yeah, it's true. This really has baffled people. But the question is, how consequential is this really going to be if Trump does do something now about Jerusalem? The Palestinian president is alarmed, but we haven't heard him say this is a deal breaker. And there could, you know, be some wiggle room on how President Trump words this. He could recognize Israel's right to West Jerusalem. He could say the fate of East Jerusalem is up for negotiation and peace talks.

I spoke today with former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro. And he said that if Trump follows through with this, there might not be dramatic massive upheaval by the Palestinians because they still have an incentive not to throw in the towel on this. On the other hand, Jerusalem is a powderkeg, and you don't know how the public will respond. You don't know how leaders might be pressured to respond. And you don't know what this could spark.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.