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Nearly two years ago, novice presidential candidate Donald Trump was booed by a group of influential Jewish Republicans when he punted a question about whether he backed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
On Wednesday, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to take that position, capping a steady, if unlikely, evolution for a billionaire who had no experience dealing with the perilous politics of the Mideast when he first launched his presidential bid.
The decision reflects the influence of powerful allies in Trump’s inner circle, including Vice President Mike Pence and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, men determined to coach Trump on the issue and its importance to conservative Jews and evangelical Christians. It comes despite widespread criticism from allies in the Middle East and Europe, and concerns from some members of his own Cabinet.
“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Trump said from the White House. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”
It is not something any other president has followed through on, despite similar campaign promises.
Trump was drawn to the idea of breaking with that presidential precedent, seeing the chance to issue an order that both his predecessor Barack Obama, a frequent Trump target, and previous Republican presidents were reluctant to issue, according to two advisers familiar with the president’s thinking.
Administration officials are braced for blowback but insisted the move would not upend efforts to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But Trump’s gambit appeared to be driven less by diplomatic strategy and more by the president’s wishes to fulfill a campaign promise that was hard to imagine two years ago.
Appearing before a forum organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, an influential lobbying group largely funded by Adelson, Trump was asked a delicate, but predictable, diplomatic question: Did he believe Jerusalem was the undivided capital of Israel?
The presidential candidate, who prided himself on candor and straight talk, dodged.
“You know what I want to do? I want to wait until I meet with Bibi,” Trump said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A smattering of boos erupted…