Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly disputed a charge by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Israel might not want the US Embassy relocated to Jerusalem at this time.
“Israel has clearly stated its position to the US and to the world multiple times. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem won’t harm the peace process.
The opposite is true. It will correct a historic injustice by advancing the [peace process] and shattering a Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem isn’t Israel’s capital,” Netanyahu said.
Although he often sparred with former US president Barack Obama, it is unusual for Netanyahu to publicly spar with members of the Trump administration.
Earlier in the day, Tillerson told NBC’s Meet the Press that US President Donald Trump’s view on moving the embassy would be particularly influenced by Netanyahu.
“It will be informed by the parties involved in those talks – and most certainly Israel’s view – and whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction,” he said.
Tillerson spoke in advance of the anticipated visit to the region next week by Trump to help jump-start the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.
“The president, I think rightly, has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all interested parties in the region and understanding – in the context of a peace initiative – what impact would such a move have,” Tillerson said.
“He [Trump] wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine,” he continued. “And so, I think in large measure, the president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process.”
Trump campaigned on a promise to move the embassy, but quickly changed course after taking office, after being advised by Middle East allies that such an action would roil the region and undermine his efforts to initiate peace talks.
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While Netanyahu has publicly called for the embassy’s relocation, there is wide-ranging speculation that he has hesitated, possibly to not lose support for wider, behindthe- scenes alliances with moderate Arab states with regard to Iran.
Marc Zell, who chairs Republicans Overseas Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that the embassy has not been moved “because of a request coming from this side of the ocean.”
The Israeli government wants the embassy moved, but “it’s a question of timing,” said Zell, who just returned from Washington, where he had dinner with Vice President Mike Pence.
In the end, Zell said, he believes the embassy will be relocated.
Trump “puts the highest premium on his promise to the public,” Zell continued, adding that he owes it to evangelical Christians who supported him to make good on that pledge.
“He cannot afford to alienate them,” he explained, noting that Trump’s supporters are already working on mid-term elections and the 2020 reelection campaign.
“He cannot just thumb his nose at this issue,” Zell said. The simplest way to advance, he speculated, would be for Trump at the end of May to not waive the 1995 congressional law that mandates the embassy be in Jerusalem. US presidents have signed waivers to the law every six months since its passage.
In preparation for Trump’s visit, US Ambassador David Friedman was scheduled to arrive on Monday, to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. Friedman is expected to move into the US Ambassador’s Residence in Herzliya at this time, although there has been speculation that he may try to live in Jerusalem.
In Amman on Sunday, Jordanian Foreign and Expatriates Affairs Minister Ayman Safadi met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri and PLO Executive Committee Secretary- General Saeb Erekat, who have pledged their commitment to a two-state solution based on pre- 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
“We all value the obvious and solid commitment that the President [Trump] had made to ensuring progress toward resolving the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. And as our leaders emphasized there, we are willing to do the heavy lifting. We are going to do whatever it takes to help push the process forward and to be there, supporting the president and working with him,” Safadi said.
Erekat called on Israel to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and Jewish building in east Jerusalem or risk losing any option for peace.
“To continue the settlement activities on the land that is supposed to be the Palestinian state in the future is transmitting one message to people – that those who continue the settlement activities don’t want the two-state solution. I really urge the Israeli government to choose between settlements or peace, and I hope that they will choose peace.
We have negotiated. We will give peace a chance,” Erekat said.Reuters contributed to this report.