US President Donald Trump may use his visit to Israel next month to announce the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) said on Thursday.DeSantis, who is chairman of the House committee with oversight of US embassies around the world, said the timing of Trump’s visit – two days before Jerusalem Day, marking 50 years since the reunification of the capital – is not accidental.Trump is expected to arrive on May 22. This would be his first visit to the country as president, and he is expected to stay for one night.
“What better time could there be to announce the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem when you are over there celebrating with our Israeli friends this very important 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem?” DeSantis asked. “I think the announcement of that trip is a signal that it is more likely to happen than not, and will send a powerful signal to other countries around the world that America is back and will stand by our allies and will not let folks cow us into not doing the right thing.”Palestinian and Arab leaders have warned the US against the move, saying it would trigger violence in Israel and elsewhere.Moscow announced earlier this month that it recognizes west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that it expects east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. It also made clear that it had no intention of moving its embassy. Yediot Aharonot reported on Thursday that Trump may announce united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but might say that the time is not yet right to move the embassy.DeSantis was speaking on Capitol Hill at the initiation of the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus, a group made up of a number of strongly pro-Israel Republican lawmakers calling for a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not emphasize Israeli concessions. DeSantis was in Israel in early March and visited four potential sites for the location of the embassy in the capital. Referring to Trump’s campaign promise to move the embassy, he said at the time that he did not think the president would sign a waiver – as every president has done every six months for the last 22 years – to override the law passed by Congress in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy.“I don’t think that he’s going to, on the same month when people here in Jerusalem are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem Day, sign the waiver,” he said. “I would bet that he would not do that and he would announce that the embassy would be moving.”Even though an advance team arrived on Thursday from Washington to prepare for the presidential visit, neither the US nor Israel has formally confirmed that it will take place, with officials on both sides saying that discussions on the matter are still in the early stages.Nevertheless, the US team held talks in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the President’s Residence, and are expected to visit the Western Wall, the Old City of Jerusalem, Masada and the Allenby Bridge on Friday, an indication of where Trump might visit during the trip. The visit to the Allenby Bridge indicates that he may go to Jordan as well.If Trump does indeed arrive next month, just four months after his inauguration, it will be the earliest any US president has come to Israel in his tenure. Barack Obama traveled to the region and visited Turkey in April, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt in June, of his first year in office, but did not get to Israel until four years later.Trump’s visit is expected to be part of his first trip abroad as president, which will also include a trip to Brussels to take part in a high-level NATO meeting. He may also visit Saudi Arabia.The president is expected to be accompanied by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, as well as by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are among his closest advisors. His newly appointed ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is expected to arrive in mid-May.Trump’s visit is likely to take place just three weeks after he meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, a meeting scheduled for next week, and is expected to provide a push to the moribund Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process. Trump last met with Netanyahu in Washington in February.Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported that the same week Trump is scheduled to be in Israel, a plan put forward by Construction Minister Yoav Gallant is scheduled for government approval. The plan calls for the construction of 25,000 housing units in the capital, including 15,000 in neighborhoods built beyond the Green Line in the city, including Ramot, Givat Hamatos, East Talpiot, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neveh Ya’acov, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo and Atarot.US-Israel ties took a sharp turn for the worse in 2010, when plans were approved for a new project int Ramat Shlomo for some 1,600 homes just as then-vice president Joe Biden was visiting.
Netanyahu hails "new day" in Israel-US relations after meeting with Trump (credit: REUTERS)