Donald Trump will not 'provoke' the Palestinians by moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the divided city of Jerusalem, according to a White House official.
Bloomberg News reported that despite repeated pledges to do so, the Trump administration has decided not to make the controversial move, which some in Israel hoped would be announced during the US President's forthcoming visit to the region later this month.
'We don't think it would be wise to do it at this time,' the official was reported as saying. 'We've been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done, but we're not looking to provoke anyone when everyone's playing really nice.'
Trump is hoping to kick-start the dormant Middle East peace process, having met with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Washington earlier this month. Abbas has reportedly agreed to engage in talks 'without preconditions' with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Trump also hosted at the White House in February.
'The Palestinians and Israelis must work together to reach an agreement that allows both peoples to live, worship and thrive and prosper in peace,' Trump said after meeting Abbas.
'And I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement, to mediate, to arbitrate anything they'd like to do, but I would be a mediator or an arbitrator or a facilitator.'
In January, a senior Fatah official said that moving the embassy would 'ignote' the Palestinian people into a new uprising.
'I believe that any American act of stupidity will ignite the Palestinian territories,' Fatah Central Committee member Sultan Abu al-Einein told Egypt's Alghad TV.
'We must prepare for a confrontation with the new US administration, which has clearly and audaciously declared that Israel and its settlements are legitimate and legal,' he said.
The Palestinian official declared that Washington and Jerusalem 'will bear responsibility for the return of the bloodshed in the Palestinian territories'.
In December, momentum appeared to be gathering behind Trump's proposal to move the embassy after his spokeswoman said it was a 'very big priority'.
According to Israel's Channel 2 TV station, officials were actively looking into possible locations for a new US embassy – including the Diplomat Hotel in the Talpiot neighborhood of west Jerusalem, a privately owned building that is home to 500 elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
In December, Netanyahu said that such a move would be 'great'. He said: 'Regarding the idea of opening the US Embassy to Jerusalem, I will respond to this in one word: Great.'
Kellyanne Conway, a spokeswoman for Trump, said in a radio interview that he 'made it very clear during the campaign' that he wanted to make the move, and that she had 'heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly'.
Trump delighted Netanyahu in September by telling him during a lengthy meeting that if he won the presidential election, the US would 'recognise Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel'.
While Israel considers Jerusalem its 'eternal, undivided capital', the Palestinians regard the east of the city – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War – to be the capital of any future Palestinian state.
Critics said that Trump's plan would have effectively ruled out a two-state solution to which the agreed division of Jerusalem would be key.