Shlomo Cesana, Erez Linn and Reuters
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to news that U.S. President Donald Trump may be rethinking his promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in view of how relocation would affect efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
The possible relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was at the center of a pointed exchange between Israel and the White House on Sunday.
U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to determine how keeping his election promise to move the embassy may affect his hopes of brokering a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. But in Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office said the move would only help advance the peace process.
Since taking office in January, Trump has shown signs of backpedaling on his campaign pledge to move the embassy, while vowing to do what is necessary to clinch a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process,” Tillerson told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” speaking days before Trump starts a Middle East trip that includes meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Israel regards Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all foreign countries to base their embassies there. The relocation is strongly opposed by many U.S. allies as the Palestinians also claim the city as their capital.
Tillerson said Trump’s decision would depend greatly on how it is seen by governments in the region, including “whether Israel views it as being helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
His comments drew a quick response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times before to the American administration and the world,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem will not harm the peace process; it will do the opposite. It will advance it by righting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”
Associates of the prime minister denied reports that Netanyahu had asked the Americans to postpone the relocation to avoid tensions with the Arab world.
Meanwhile, new U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was expected to arrive in Israel on Monday and is slated to begin his term officially on Tuesday. He will delve headlong into the preparations for Trump’s upcoming visit.
On another front, a Twitter war erupted on Sunday between Habayit Hayehudi head and Education Minister Naftali Bennett and the Likud party. Bennett tweeted that Jerusalem is “our eternal capital, and there is no other” and that relocating the American Embassy there would “strengthen Israel and the chances of a true peace because any agreement founded on the division of Jerusalem is doomed to fail.”
“I urge the prime minister to declare that we expect the American administration to move the embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty,” Bennett wrote.
Representatives of the Likud party replied to Bennett, “congratulating” him for “memorizing the press releases issued by the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and quoting them as if they were his own demands.”
“He does this on many issues, and that is what he is doing with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s consistent demand to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem,” they wrote.