Donald Trump appears to have missed a deadline for signing a waiver on a US law requiring its embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, in an act of brinkmanship over one of the Middle East’s most fraught issues.
According to diplomats and Palestinians officials, the original deadline was expected to have fallen on Friday at midnight and was pushed to Monday. That deadline passed without an announcement after a White House official said no action would be taken on Monday.
Amid mounting anxiety over Trump’s intentions, the US president was facing a growing chorus of warnings over potential repercussions over a unilateral US decision regarding Jerusalem’s status.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the status of Jerusalem as a “red line” for Muslims that could lead to a severing of relations with Israel, while the European Union warned of possible “serious repercussions”.
Saudi Arabia – which has been enjoying a discreet warming of relations with Israel – cautioned against taking any step that would “obstruct the ongoing efforts to revive the peace process”.
Some reports suggest Trump may reluctantly announce the signing of the waiver in the coming days, others that he may also announce that he plans to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The latter move would result in the Palestinian leadership “stopping contacts” with the US, a diplomatic adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas said .
In June, Trump issued a waiver to comply with the 1995 law, which insists the president must relocate the embassy to Jerusalem or explain at six-monthly intervals why doing so is not in the national security interests of the US.
The failure to announce the signing of the newest waiver does not indicate whether or not the US president has approved it. However it feeds into a growing tension in the region.
The status of Jerusalem is a key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming the city as their capital. Trump repeatedly promised during his election campaign to move the embassy.
All foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv with consular representation in Jerusalem. For more than two decades successive administrations have signed a legal waiver delaying by six months plans to move the US embassy to the Holy City.
“If the status of Jerusalem is changed and another step is taken … that would be a major catastrophe,” the Turkish deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdağ, said on Monday. “It would completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region, and lead to new conflicts, new disputes and new unrest.”
The Arab League leader, Abul Gheit, warned any such move would pose a threat “to the stability of the Middle East and the whole world”, while the French president, Emmanuel Macron, warned Trump that Jerusalem’s status must be decided “within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”.
The White House statement saying that Trump would miss the deadline came after a frantic 48 hours of public warnings from allies and private phone calls between world leaders.
“The president has been clear on this issue from the get-go: it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, who said a declaration on the move would be made “in the coming days”.
Palestinian sources made clear they had expected the waiver to be continued. “We were told the waiver would be signed,” one official told the Guardian. “The expectation of [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas office was that then Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which we and no Arab leader can accept.
“If that happens,” the source added, “we will walk away from contacts with US officials.”
The sense of danger around the issue was underlined by a report in the Washington Post that a classified memo had been sent to embassies in the Middle East warning of the risk of anti-American protests related to an announcement concerning the embassy.
Domestic politics may push Trump toward recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital instead, in a gesture towards conservative voters and donors.
Amid internal White House disagreements, several US administration officials were unable or unwilling to say with certainty what Trump would decide. “The president’s going to make his decision,” his Middle East peace envoy and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said.
Israeli’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, urged Trump to grasp a “historic opportunity”.