European governments have been funding NGOs involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict that blur the lines between violence and nonviolence and legitimize attacks against Israeli civilians, according to a report released Thursday by watchdog organization NGO Monitor.

According to the report, several European- funded NGOs use the “facade of human rights and international law” to blur the lines between “peaceful” or “nonviolent” campaigns and violent “resistance” – “a term used by Palestinians to refer to armed groups that carry out attacks on Israel.”


One example provided in the report named the Spanish NGO Novact – which in 2015 received some €1.3 million in funding from Spain, the UN and the EU for activities related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – as one such organization that “whitewashes resistance.”

In February 2017, the NGO invited Palestinians Munther Amira and Manal Tamimi of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee to a conference funded by the Spanish regional government of Catalonia and the EU on “preventing violent extremism.”

According to the report, both Tamimi and Amira have incited violence and glorified terrorism numerous times.

In August 2015, Tamimi wrote on Twitter: “I do hate Israel ,i [sic] wish a thrid Intefada [sic] coming soon and people rais [sic] up and kills all these zionist settlers everywhere.”

Amira has described a violent demonstration organized by him as part of a “struggle against the Nazi occupation.”

Both Amira and Tamimi were arrested upon their arrival in Barcelona for suspected terrorist activities.

Additionally, the report stated that a number of European-funded organizations also have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – designated a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Canada and Israel.

The report cited the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which consistently labels terrorist attacks against Israelis as part of the “legitimate right to resist the occupation,” among the NGOs whitewashing resistance and maintaining ties to the PFLP.

In April 2016, founder and director of PCHR Raji Sourani, who has served multiple jail sentences, including for his alleged illegal membership ties to the PFLP, declared that “I think resistance is our right and our obligation.”

The Addameer association – a leader of campaigns in support of Palestinian prisoners convicted of security offenses, referring to them as “political prisoners” rather than as terrorists – is another organization named in the report.

It is very active in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, and several of the NGO’s employees have been convicted on terrorism charges by Israeli courts.

The NGO’s chairman and cofounder, Abdul-latif Ghaith, was banned by Israel from traveling internationally, due to his alleged membership in the PFLP, and Khalida Jarrar, Addameer’s vice chairwoman, is a senior PFLP official.

In 2015, Jarrar was indicted for various offenses, including active membership in a terrorist organization (the PFLP) and inciting violence through a call to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Another example provided in the report includes funding to Al-Haq, a self-described Palestinian human rights organization, which is a leader in anti-Israel lawfare, lobbying the International Criminal Court for the prosecution of Israelis, and in BDS activities.

Al-Haq’s director-general Shawan Jabarin has alleged ties to the PFLP terrorist organization, the report stated, and, as such, has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan.

“The examples presented in this report are symptomatic of an overall lack of accountability and scrutiny in government funding to NGOs that are politically active in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” the report stated. “This results in financial backing for groups that legitimize violence, in sharp contradistinction to the government funders that are otherwise committed to facilitating a negotiated ‘two-state’ vision.”

In light of the serious allegations presented, the report also issued a list of recommendations to combat funding to such NGOs.

Among its recommendations, NGO Monitor called for the establishment of “working groups with members of the Knesset and European parliamentarians in order to enhance oversight and arrive at mutually agreed upon funding guidelines.”

Additionally, the report called for increased coordination and information sharing among Israeli government branches and increased coordination on NGO funding between Israeli security apparatuses and their European counterparts.

According to Olga Deutsch, director of the Europe Desk at NGO Monitor, “Following the distribution of NGO Monitor’s report to over 3,000 members of the European, German, Spanish, Swedish, and Swiss parliaments, we hope that decision-makers will bring this troubling phenomenon to the forefront of the public debate.

“European and Israeli leaders have a shared interest in carefully choosing which organizations they entrust to help bring about a peaceful agreement,” she added.


Most highly educated American Jews are least religious — study

American Jews with the highest level of education are the least religious, according to a new study.

The Pew Research Center study on religiosity and education in the United States, published Wednesday, found that the more years of schooling American Jews have, the less religious they are. Most Jews who have not graduated from college believe in God, and nearly 40 percent say religion is important to them. But only about a quarter of Jews who have graduated from college believe in God and say religion is important to them.

(By contrast, reports Pew, “among Christians, those with higher levels of education appear to be just as religious as those with less schooling, on average.”)

Orthodox Jews are partly a reason for the difference. The study said that on average, the Orthodox are more religious and have less secular education than their non-Orthodox counterparts. But education accounts for a split among Orthodox Jews as well: 93% of Orthodox Jews who have not graduated from college believe in God, while 82% of Orthodox college graduates do. More than 80% of both groups say religion is important to them.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews cross the street in Brooklyn (photo credit: Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

Among non-Orthodox Jews, the differences are even starker. Nearly double the number of non-college graduates believe in God (45%) as do college graduates (23%). Nearly 30% of non-Orthodox Jews without college degrees say religion is important to them, while the number falls to 20% among those who have graduated.

Both groups have low rates of prayer attendance: 12% of college graduates and 17% of non-graduates attend services at least weekly.

A Pew study from December found that Jews are the world’s most-educated religious group, with an average of more than 13 years of formal schooling.

Trump unveils biggest tax reform in over 30 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump proposed dramatic cuts in the taxes paid by corporations big and small Wednesday in an overhaul his administration says will spur economic growth and bring jobs and prosperity to America’s middle class. But his ambitious plan alarmed lawmakers who worry about ballooning federal deficits.

The plan would also reduce investment and estate taxes aimed at the wealthy. But administration officials said that action on other key tax code elements would ensure the plan would largely help the middle class instead of the affluent.

The White House has yet to spell out how much of a hole the tax cuts could create in the federal budget, maintaining that the resulting economic growth would reduce — if not eliminate — the risk of a soaring deficit.

The outlined changes to the tax code are the most concrete guidance so far on Trump’s vision for spurring job growth.

“The president owns this plan; don’t be mistaken,” said Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, joined by National Economic Director Gary Cohn, speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Cohn said Trump and his administration recognize they have to be “good stewards” of the federal budget. But the plan as it currently stands could cause the federal deficit to climb, unless it sparks a massive and lasting wave of growth that most economists say is unlikely.

The threat of a rising budget deficit could erode support for the plan among lawmakers in Trump’s own Republican Party. Administration officials intend to hash out additional details with members of the House and Senate in the coming weeks for what would be the first massive rewrite of the US tax code since 1986.

“We know this is difficult,” Cohn said. “We know what we’re asking for is a big bite.”

As Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explained it in an interview, the plan would reduce the number of personal income tax brackets to three from seven: rates of 10 percent, 25% and 35%. It would double the standard deduction for married couples to $24,000, while keeping deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest payments. The administration plans to provide tax relief for families with child care expenses, too, although the specifics have yet to be included.

On the other hand, the proposal would also trim other deductions utilized by wealthier Americans. This would include deductions for state and local tax payments, a change that could alienate support from lawmakers in states such as California and New York with higher state taxes.

“It’s not the federal government’s job to be subsidizing the states,” Mnuchin said.

The administration has emphasized that the plan was focused on simplifying the tax code and helping middle class Americans. The median US household income is slightly above $50,000 (NIS 182,000) annually.

Still, the proposal could reduce the tax burden for the wealthy as well.

It would also repeal the estate tax, the catch-all alternative minimum tax and the 3.8% tax on investment income from President Barack Obama’s health care law. The proposal has yet to be vetted for its precise impact on top earners, as several details are still being determined.

On the corporate side, the top marginal tax rate would fall from 35% to 15%. Small businesses that account for their owners’ personal incomes would see their top tax rate go from 39.6% to the proposed corporate tax rate of 15%. Mnuchin stressed that the change for small business owners — a group that under the current definition could include doctors, lawyers and even major real estate companies — would be done to ensure that wealthier Americans could not exploit the change to pay less in taxes.

Turkey detains, suspends thousands in huge new anti-Gulen crackdown

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Turkey on Wednesday detained more than 1,000 people and suspended over 9,100 police in a vast new crackdown against alleged supporters of the US-based preacher accused of orchestrating the coup bid against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Dawn raids across the country — seeking more than 3,000 suspects — were followed by a statement from police that 9,103 police officers were being suspended on suspicion of links to Fethullah Gulen.

The new wave of the crackdown came just over a week after Erdogan narrowly won a controversial referendum on ramping up his powers which opponents fear will hand him one man rule.

A total of 1,120 suspects have so far been detained, the official Anadolu news agency said.

File photo of Turkish anti-riot police escort soldiers who allegedly took part in a military coup, as they leave a courthouse in Istanbul on July 16, 2016. (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Anadolu said 4,672 suspects were sought in Wednesday’s raids — of whom 1,448 are already in jail — meaning that a total of 3,224 arrest warrants were issued.

About 8,500 police officers were involved in the nationwide operation, Anadolu reported, adding that arrest warrants had been issued for 390 suspects in Istanbul alone.

Meanwhile, the 9,103 police officers were being suspended on suspicion of links or contacts to Gulen’s group, on the grounds of national security, the police force said in a statement on its website.

This file photo taken on July 18, 2016 shows pro-Erdogan supporters holding an effigy of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen hung by a noose during a rally at Taksim square in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Turkish authorities blame Gulen for masterminding the July 2016 failed military coup that aimed to oust Erdogan from power but he denies the charges.

The government has repeatedly asked the United States to extradite Gulen, who has been living in exile there since 1999.

About 47,000 people have already been arrested in Turkey under a nine-month state of emergency in place since the coup bid, a crackdown whose magnitude has raised alarm in the West and caused further strife for Ankara’s bid to join the EU.

The Turkish parliament two days after the referendum extended the state of emergency by another three months to July 19.

After the latest sweep, German foreign ministry spokesman Sebastian Fischer said Berlin “has taken note of the mass detentions with concern,” urging respect for rule of law.

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said every individual had a right to a fair trial and emphasized that Turkey needed to respect the “highest democratic standards and practices.”

‘Secret imams’

The suspects detained are so-called “secret imams” of Gulen suspected of infiltrating themselves into the police or other state institutions, Anadolu said.

Erdogan has repeatedly said he will wipe out the “virus” of Gulen from state institutions after the failed coup.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes the Somalian president at the presidential complex in Ankara on April 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

The vast operation targeted big cities such as Istanbul as well as Izmir in western Turkey and Konya in the Anatolian heartland.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had hinted in a television interview this month that a new anti-Gulen crackdown had been in the pipeline.

The ‘Yes’ camp won 51.41 percent of the vote in the April 16 referendum on creating a presidential system in Turkey but opponents claim the result would have been reversed in a fair poll.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said Wednesday it would challenge last-minute changes to voting rules in the referendum at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

‘Deeply concerned’

Analysts have said Erdogan, after his poll win, can choose between new confrontation or reconciliation with the West but in recent days tensions have risen further.

Turkish warplanes killed more than two dozen Kurdish fighters Tuesday in strikes in Syria and Iraq, angering the United States.

Ankara said it had carried out the strikes against “terrorist havens,” vowing to continue acting against groups it links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In northeast Syria, strikes targeted the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — who are leading the offensive against the Islamic State stronghold Raqqa.

The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” the strikes were conducted “without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition” against IS. Ankara said it had informed the US and Russia before the strikes.

Kurds wave flags of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as a medical helicopter, from the US-led coalition, flies over the site of Turkish airstrikes near the Syrian Kurdish town of Derik, known as al-Malikiyah in Arabic, on April 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Delil Souleiman)

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted Tuesday to reopen a monitoring probe into Turkey over rights concerns, sparking anger from Ankara.

German deputy Bernd Fabritius said that the Turkish government had scrapped all official meetings he was due to hold as part of a planned Council of Europe observation mission next month.

Fatah beats Hamas at university elections for 2nd time this month

Fatah, the ruling party of Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, on Wednesday bested its political rival Hamas in West Bank student university elections for the second time this month.

Fatah’s Shabiba party took 19 seats in elections at the Polytechnic University in Hebron, while Hamas’s Islamic bloc party won 11 seats, and a left-wing group got just one seat.

Last year at the Polytechnic, Fatah won 18 seats, while Hamas took 12. Polytechnic is a small university, with just 5,381 students, out of which 3,014 voted.

Student elections are seen by analysts as a barometer of the Palestinian public in the absence of any elections that have included Hamas since 2006.

Earlier this month Fatah won the student elections at An-Najah University in Nablus, the biggest Palestinian university in the West Bank.

At An-Najah, Fatah’s party took 41 seats, Hamas’s party 34, while a number of left-wing groups won a total of 6 seats.

The wins for Fatah’s Shabiba party represents a turnaround from recent years that saw Hamas’s Islamic bloc winning major university elections, especially in Ramallah’s Birzeit University, which has yet to hold elections in 2017.

Palestinian supporters of the Hamas movement attend a rally prior to the student council elections at Birzeit University, on the outskirts of the city of Ramallah, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)

Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawasmeh said the results of the election were proof of the “patriotic awareness of students, and the rallying around the Fatah movement is due to its high patriotic and moral values,” the official PA news outlet Wafa reported.

Qawasme called on Hamas, a terror group that took control of the Gaza Strip 10 years ago in a violent battle with Fatah, to allow for student elections in the enclave.

There have been no student elections in Gaza since Hamas took control, Qawasmeh said.

Trump team softens war talk, vows other pressure on N. Korea

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration told lawmakers Wednesday it will apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, as an extraordinary White House briefing served to tamp down talk of military action against an unpredictable and increasingly dangerous US adversary.

President Donald Trump welcomed Republican and Democratic senators before his secretary of state, defense secretary, top general and national intelligence director conducted a classified briefing. The same team also met with House members in the Capitol to outline the North’s escalating nuclear capabilities and US response options to what they called an “urgent national security threat.”

After weeks of unusually blunt military threats, the joint statement by the agency chiefs said Trump’s approach “aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.” It made no specific mention of military options, though it said the US would defend itself and friends.

The unprecedented meeting in a building adjacent to the White House reflected the increased American alarm over North Korea’s progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland. A flurry of military activity, by North Korea and the US and its partners on and around the divided Korean Peninsula, has added to the world’s sense of alert.

While tensions have increased since Trump took office, they’ve escalated dramatically in recent weeks as American and other intelligence agencies suggested the North was readying for a possible nuclear test. Although such an explosion hasn’t yet occurred, Trump has sent high-powered US military vessels and an aircraft carrier to the region in a show of force, while the North conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills, witnessed by national leader Kim Jong Un, earlier this week.

US Pacific Command Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr. testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on North Korea on April 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

On Wednesday, South Korea started installing key parts of a contentious US missile defense system that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.

America’s Pacific forces commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at US forces would be destroyed.

“If it flies, it will die,” Harris said.

The Trump administration has said all options, including a military strike, are on the table. But the administration’s statement after briefing senators — all 100 members were invited — outlined a similar approach to the Obama administration’s focus on pressuring Pyongyang to return to long-stalled denuclearization talks. Trump’s top national security advisers said they were “open to negotiations” with the North, though they gave no indication of when or under what circumstances.

The strategy hinges greatly on the cooperation of China, North Korea’s main trading partner.

“China is the key to this,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who got a preview of Trump’s message at a dinner with the president this week.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California agreed. “I think the best approach for the administration is to bring the maximum pressure to bear diplomatically on China, as well as North Korea, but otherwise to walk softly and carry a big stick,” he told reporters after attending the Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday.

A US military vehicle moves past banners opposing a plan to deploy an advanced US missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, as South Korean police officers stand guard in Seongju, South Korea, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (Kim Jun-hum/Yonhap via AP)

Among the options are returning North Korea to the US state sponsor of terrorism blacklist, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week was under consideration. His spokesman, Mark Toner, said Wednesday that another tactic is getting nations around the world to close down North Korean embassies and consulates, or suspending them from international organizations.

But sanctions will be the greatest tool at the Trump administration’s disposal. Tillerson is chairing a UN Security Council meeting Friday designed to get nations to enforce existing penalties on North Korea and weigh new ones.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Harris said he expects North Korea to soon be able to develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United States, as Kim has promised. “One of these days soon, he will succeed,” Harris said.

North Korea’s UN mission said Wednesday the nation would react to “a total war” with Washington by using nuclear weapons. It vowed victory in a “death-defying struggle against the US imperialists.”

Korean People's Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. (AFP/Ed Jones)

Trump, like presidents before him, faces difficult options. Sanctions haven’t forced Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear efforts, but a targeted US attack to take out its weapons program risks a wider war along a heavily militarized border near where tens of millions of South Koreans live. The threat would extend to nearby Japan, another country North Korea regularly threatens.

China has urged restraint by both Pyongyang and Washington. In Berlin Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said North Korea must suspend its nuclear activities, but “on the other side, the large-scale military maneuvers in Korean waters should be halted.” That was a reference to US and South Korean war games.

China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, being installed in South Korea, rejecting American assurances that it will only target North Korean missiles. Russia also sees the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said THAAD would upset the region’s “strategic balance.” China will take “necessary measures to defend our own interests,” he promised.

US envoy Haley: ‘It’s a new day for Israel at the UN’

“It’s a new day for Israel at the UN,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told delegates at the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

In front of a crowd of some 600 Jewish activists and leaders from 90 different countries, Haley emphasized that the US will not remain silent when Israel is attacked at the UN.

“Silence is not my thing anyway,” she said, “but that’s especially true when it comes to standing up for America’s friends. And we have no better friend in the Middle East than Israel.”

Last month, Israel announced it would reduce its annual membership payment to the United Nations by $2 million following recent “anti-Israel” votes in the organization’s bodies.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the decision was taken following votes critical of Israel at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, and condemned the “obsessive discrimination against Israel on the part of the United Nations and its agencies.”

Israel is the only country in the world that is the subject of a permanent agenda item at the HRC, a fact that former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power also took issue with in a speech similar to Haley’s in December 2015. Power blasted the “absurdity” that Israel, “not Syria, which gasses its citizens,” was singled out at the UNHRC.

Members of the UN Security Council vote in favor of condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/United Nations via AP)

In her Tuesday speech, Haley urged UN member states to accept the US view that Iran’s influence in the region deserves the attention wrongly directed at Israel.

“The truth is that Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism. The truth is that Iran is the number one source of instability in the Middle East,” she said.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told WJC delegates that he too would stand up against anti-Israel bias at the international organization, vowing to stand “on the front lines in the fight against anti-Semitism.”

Trump expected in Israel last week of May; Nikki Haley to visit in June

A Trump administration delegation is expected to arrive in Israel on Thursday to oversee technical arrangements for a visit by President Donald Trump to Israel in the last week of May.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that preparations for Trump’s visit were at the advanced stage, although it has not yet been finalized, and told Army Radio, “There’s a feeling that we have a real friend in the White House.”

The visit will be Trump’s first ever trip to Israel. Channel 2 said he is expected to stay for one night only, and that it is not yet clear whether he will visit the Palestinian areas. The president hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in February and is set to host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on May 3.

The advance delegation will hold talks at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, and visit possible sites for the president’s itinerary.

On the eve of May 23 and on May 24, Israel will mark Jerusalem Day, celebrating 50 years since the reunification of the city under Israeli control in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel extended sovereignty to East Jerusalem and the Old City and claims the entire city as its capital; the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. The Channel 2 report, noting the resonance of the date for Israelis and Palestinians, said Trump’s visit would not be on Jerusalem Day itself.

The TV report also said that Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, will visit Israel in June. Haley has become a particularly popular member of the Trump administration in Israel and in the pro-Israel community in the US for her repeated castigations of anti-Israel bias at the UN.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley acknowledges the applause as she arrives to speak at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, March 27, 2017 (AIPAC screenshot)

Israel Radio said the talks on Trump’s visit had been going on for several weeks. A senior diplomatic official told the radio that the chances of Trump coming to Israel were at 80 percent.

No US president has visited Israel in the first months of his term. Richard Nixon was the first serving president to visit, in 1974. Jimmy Carter came in 1979, after brokering the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. Bill Clinton visited a record four times, and George W. Bush came twice.

The last serving US president to visit Israel was Barack Obama, who came to Jerusalem for just a few hours to attend the funeral of former president and prime minister Shimon Peres last September. He previously made an official visit to Israel in March 2013. Obama did not visit Israel, however, on his first trip to the Middle East in 2009, which included a landmark outreach speech to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo.

Trump, whose first scheduled foreign trip as president is a visit to Brussels on May 25, is looking to expand on that trip by arriving in Israel on May 21 or in the days after, other Hebrew media reports said.

His trip to Israel will also coincide with an important decision Trump will have to make on whether to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as he promised in his election campaign.

During his election campaign Trump vowed that if victorious he would relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, a highly symbolic move valued by Israel as confirmation of the city as its capital, but strongly opposed by Palestinians and the Arab world which want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

However, following meetings with Arab leaders, Trump has appeared to back away from the move, saying only that he was still considering it.

A Jewish man covers himself with a prayer shawl while praying near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the Passover priestly blessing on April 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the end of last year, Obama signed a waiver to prevent moving the embassy to Jerusalem. It was the eighth time that Obama signed the waiver, which must be renewed every six months. This latest waiver expires at the end of May.

Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, but allowed the president to exercise a waiver, citing the national security interests of the United States. Obama’s predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also signed such waivers.

David Friedman, Trump’s designated US ambassador to Israel, is also a strong supporter of the move, saying in December following the announcement of his nomination that he was eager to begin working from “the US Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Numerous members of Israel’s governing coalition have hailed the planned embassy move, with Netanyahu saying in December that it would be “great.”

However, the Palestinians have come out sharply against it. Abbas said that moving the embassy would “destroy the prospects of any political process,” and a spokesman for his Fatah party said it would “open the gates of hell in the region and in the whole world.”

In March, Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Florida who led a small fact-finding mission to investigate the logistics of moving the embassy, speculated that Trump could make the announcement of the move on Jerusalem Day.

“Knowing the president — he’s been a man of his word — I don’t think that he’s going to, in the same month that people here in Jerusalem are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem Day, sign the waiver. I would bet that he would not do that and that he would announce that the embassy is going to be moving,” DeSantis said during his visit.

Trump has never visited Israel before.

Last May, during his election campaign, Trump said he planned to visit Israel before the November 18 elections, but the visit never happened.

The then-presumptive GOP nominee backed out of a visit to Israel in December 2016.

At the time of the cancellation, Trump was under heavy criticism for rolling out his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US, following deadly terror attacks in Paris and California.

White House confirms it’s ‘exploring’ a Trump visit to Israel

WASHINGTON — The White House is currently considering plans for US President Donald Trump to visit Israel, an administration official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, confirming speculation that talks for a trip are underway.

“We are exploring the possibility of a future visit to Israel as well as other countries,” the official said.

It would be Trump’s first visit to Israel.

Earlier on Wednesday, Channel 2 reported that Trump is expected to arrive in Israel for one night at the end of May and Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Army Radio that preparations for the visit were at an advanced stage, although specifics have not yet been finalized.

It is not clear whether the president would also visit the Palestinian Authority. He is scheduled to host PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Trump in Washington in February.

PM Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at the White House, February 15, 2017 (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

The Channel 2 report said an advance US delegation will hold talks at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and visit possible sites for the president’s itinerary.

The trip may take place on May 23 and 24, when Israel will mark Jerusalem Day, celebrating 50 years since the reunification of the city under Israeli control in the 1967 Six Day War.

Israel extended sovereignty to East Jerusalem and the Old City and claims the entire city as its capital; the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

No US president has visited Israel in the first months of his term.

Richard Nixon was the first serving president to visit — in 1974, nearly five years after he first took office. Jimmy Carter came in 1979, more than two years into his term, after brokering the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt. Bill Clinton visited a record four times, and George W. Bush came twice.

US President Barack Obama seen at the state funeral ceremony for former Israeli President Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)

The last serving US president to visit Israel was Barack Obama, who came to Jerusalem for just a few hours to attend the funeral of former president and prime minister Shimon Peres last September. He previously made an official visit to Israel in March 2013, at the start of his second term in office.

Obama did not visit Israel, however, on his first trip to the Middle East in 2009, which included a major speech to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo.

Trump, whose first scheduled foreign trip as president is a visit to Brussels on May 25, is looking to expand on that trip by arriving in Israel on May 21 or in the days after, some Hebrew media reports said this week.

His trip to Israel could also coincide with an important decision Trump will have to make on whether to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as he promised during his election campaign.

The move would be a highly symbolic gesture valued by Israel as confirmation of the city as its capital, but strongly opposed by Palestinians and the Arab world.

Following meetings with Arab leaders, however, especially Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Trump has appeared to back away from the move, saying only that he was still considering it.

Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, but allowed the president to exercise a six-month waiver on national security grounds. Every president since, including Obama’s predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have signed such a waiver every six months.

The last waiver, signed in December by Obama, expires at the end of May, when Trump will have to make a decision whether to sign it or follow through on his campaign promise to allow the embassy relocation