'Jerusalem mayor in talks with US officials over possible embassy move'

"I am holding talks with government officials in the US and I know that they are serious about their intention," Nir Barkat says in regard to US President Donald Trump's pledge.

January 23, 2017 11:49
2 minute read.
Nir Barkat

Nir Barkat. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is in talks with White House officials about fulfilling US President Donald Trump’s pledge to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital, the mayor said on Monday.

Noting that the US president plans on conducting hearings to discuss the contentious move, Barkat called Trump “a true friend of Israel who keeps his promises...

I congratulate President Trump and the historic message being sent by the White House by beginning hearings to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem,” the mayor said in a statement released on Monday.

Barkat has not said with whom he has been speaking at the White House.

“Trump has proven that he is a true friend of the State of Israel, and keeps his promises.

The announcement sends a clear message to the world that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
In stunning rebuke against Obama, Barkat urges Israelis to support Trump

“We’ll help the US government use its authority [and provide] all the necessary assistance to make the [relocation] of the embassy to Jerusalem as quick and smooth as possible,” he said.

Although White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said that such a deal is still in its nascent stages, Barkat told Army Radio that he believes it is just a matter of time until the relocation takes place. “I am holding talks with government officials in the US and I know that they are serious about their intention,” said Barkat, who is friendly with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Barkat conceded that such a move would take time to organize, but nonetheless asserted that he was confident that it would be carried out. “They have various properties in Jerusalem that could serve as a solution,” he said of real estate options that could potentially house the embassy.

Meanwhile, Jibril Rajoub, a senior Palestinian leader and Fatah official, warned that an embassy relocation is tantamount to “a declaration of war against Muslims... If someone on your side thinks it won’t have ramifications, they’re wrong,” he said.

“This is a dangerous move, which will not bring stability to the region.”

Indeed, any decision to break with the status quo is likely to prompt protests from US allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Washington relies on those countries for aid in fighting the Islamic State, which Trump has emphasized is a top priority.

Although the US Congress passed a law in 1995 designating Jerusalem as the capital, and ruled it should not be divided, successive Republican and Democratic presidents have used their foreign policy powers to maintain the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, and to back negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the status of the contested capital.

In early December, former president Barack Obama renewed the presidential waiver until the beginning of June. It remains unclear whether Trump would be able to override that waiver and authorize the relocation of the embassy.

US diplomats contend that, despite the legislation, Washington’s foreign policy is in practice broadly aligned with that of the United Nations and other major powers, which do not view Jerusalem as the capital and do not recognize the annexation of east Jerusalem after its capture in the Six Day War.

Michael Wilner and Reuters contributed to this report.

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