US lawmaker tours potential embassy sites in Jerusalem

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March 5, 2017 23:48

Congressman DeSantis: Relocation would have Arab world see Trump as "strong and decisive leader."

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REP. RON DESANTIS of Florida speaks to reporters in the capital yesterday.

REP. RON DESANTIS of Florida speaks to reporters in the capital yesterday.. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Congressman Ron DeSantis believes that US President Donald Trump will keep his campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and for that reason is in Israel for a brief visit to look at potential sites.

DeSantis (R-Florida) is chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security that is responsible for the security at US embassies around the world.

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He explained the purpose of his visit at a Jerusalem press conference by saying it was important “to come out and get some knowledge in Congress about where this thing [a future embassy in Jerusalem] will actually be.”

DeSantis said that on June 1, Trump will either follow up on his campaign promise to move the embassy, or sign a waiver – as every US president has done every six months for the last 22 years – to override the law passed by Congress in 1995 that mandated the move.
Trump administration assessing whether to move US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, says Mike Pence on Feb. 25, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)

Knowing Trump as “a man of his word,” DeSantis said, he did not think the president would sign the waiver and again block the move at the same time Israelis will be celebrating 50 years since the “liberation of Jerusalem.”

“I would bet that he would not do that and will announce that the embassy will be moving,” he said.

On Sunday, DeSantis met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and officials involved with security at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and consulate offices in Jerusalem.

He visited four potential sites, including the consulate location on Agron Street, the American Citizens Services Union on David Flusser Street, the Diplomat Hotel nearby and a parcel of land in the Talpiot neighborhood that has been leased, concluding that the facility on David Flusser Street seemed best suited at this time to serve as the embassy’s location.

Contrary to reports that Netanyahu was not pushing the Trump administration to move the embassy, DeSantis said that during their meeting the prime minister was supportive of the move, saying that “it would be great” if it materialized.

The congressman said he could not predict what Palestinian reaction would be, or whether such a move would spark violence.

Regarding the reaction in the Arab world, he said, “If you look at some of the issues that bind our country with some of the Arab Gulf states that may not philosophically agree with this [move], their main concern is not Jerusalem right now, it’s Iran’s influence and some of the other security threats they face.”

If the Trump administration recognizes those threats to its Arab allies and is willing to work with them, “I don’t think the embassy issue is going to be that big a deal,” DeSantis said.

When dealing with the Arab world, “it is important to project decisiveness and strength,” he said, and added that Trump’s following through on his campaign pledge will be seen by many in the Arab world as a sign of a “strong and decisive leader.

“I think they will actually respect him more for it,” he said. On the contrary, if Trump becomes “cowed” by concern about what may happen, that could send a bad signal that could harm the administration.

Another “benefit” of the move would be that truth would be served. “We have this historic connection with Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem,” DeSantis said, noting that he and many of his congressional colleagues were very frustrated at the Palestinian denial of a Jewish connection to the city.

“We have to be truthful and understand, this is one of the most ancient capital cities and it is rightfully their [Israel’s] capital city,” he said. “There is no other country in the world where we do not locate our embassy in that country’s chosen capital city.”

Meanwhile, Fatah spokesman Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad warned on Saturday that steps to move the embassy to Jerusalem would destabilize the region.

“The US Congress should understand that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem will explode the situation in the Mena region [the Middle East and North Africa],” he said in a statement ahead of DeSantis’s visit.

King Abdullah II of Jordan told a group of American Jewish leaders visiting Amman on Sunday that changes to the status quo in Jerusalem would have “negative consequences on the entire region.”

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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