White House appears to cool speculation over US Embassy relocation

(White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer giving a Press Briefing at the White House, 23/01/2017. Youtube screenshot.)

The spokesperson for the White House indicated yesterday that the prospect of relocating the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem remains distant.

During the election campaign, President Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, in a move which would likely anger the Palestinians. Egyptian and Jordanian leaders have also warned of regional consequences if such a relocation were to occur.

At a press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to commit to a Jerusalem-based US embassy before the end of Trump’s four-year term.

He said: “If it were already a decision, then we wouldn’t be going through a process.”

He added that Trump’s team “is going to continue to consult with stakeholders”.

Also yesterday, AP reported that Barack Obama authorised the transfer of £177m to the Palestinian Authority (PA) hours before leaving office on Friday. US Congress had initially approved the spending in the 2016 budget allocations.

However, two House Republicans, Ed Royce who serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger who is on the powerful Appropriations Committee, placed holds on the money whilst the PA sought membership of international organisations. Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch but are not legally binding.

The aid is intended to boost humanitarian work in Gaza and the West Bank, and support political reforms. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry apparently informed some lawmakers of the decision to release the money on Thursday.

In additional news, President Trump spoke yesterday with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and discussed fighting extremism and terrorism. Al-Sisi’s spokesman said that Trump pledged his support for Egypt and looked forward to welcoming Egypt’s President to Washington.

Al-Sisi’s government is thought to have cooperated closely with Israel in recent years over security matters, including combatting Islamist terror in the Sinai Peninsula.