Jerusalem mayor vaunts Trump, campaigns for embassy move
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Jerusalem mayor vaunts Trump, campaigns for embassy move

Nir Barkat hopes incoming administration marks 'beginning of a new era of eight good years' in Washington

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat seen on top of the Tower of David Museum, on April 14, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat seen on top of the Tower of David Museum, on April 14, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has launched a campaign in support of incoming US president Donald Trump to “welcome him as a friend” and encourage the billionaire businessman to fulfill his campaign pledge to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In a video released Tuesday, Barkat urges Israelis to sign a letter of support for Trump in an effort to “make the US-Israeli relationship great again.”

“This week Donald Trump will enter the White House as president,” Barkat tells the camera from his office in Jerusalem’s City Hall. “Let’s together welcome him as a friend and thank him for his intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.”

Barkat, who has served as Jerusalem mayor since 2008, says the move will “send a clear message to the world that Jerusalem is the united capital of the State of Israel.”

The last three successive US presidents have maintained that the future status of Jerusalem should be settled in final negotiations between the parties, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

But Trump has indicated since his victory in November he will no longer adhere to that tradition. In December, he nominated his longtime friend and attorney David Friedman, a vocal supporter of and donor to West Bank settlements, to be the next US ambassador to Israel.

In a statement announcing the selection, Friedman said he expected to carry out his duties in “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

David Friedman, left, and Marc Zell at a pro-Trump rally in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016 (screen shot Facebook Republicans Overseas Israel)
David Friedman, left, and Marc Zell at a pro-Trump rally in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016 (screen shot Facebook Republicans Overseas Israel)

Trump also repeatedly promised during the campaign that he would move the embassy. While past presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also vowed on the campaign trail to do so, neither fulfilled that promise once they assumed responsibility for America’s foreign policy.

Barkat, speaking on Israel Radio Wednesday, said that while a full transition of the embassy to Jerusalem could take years, the symbolic move could be done immediately.

“You can move the embassy in one morning by a small change: Take the plaque of the consulate [in Jerusalem] and replace it with one that says ’embassy.’ That can be done in five minutes, and afterward you can move the ambassador and then move the rest of the staff and services,” Barkat said.

The move, the mayor said, would “change the whole dynamic around Jerusalem and Israel,” not just in terms of the Jewish state’s relationship with its US ally, but also with the rest of the world. And, according to Barkat, Trump is the man to do it.

Donald Trump speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)
Donald Trump speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

“In order to make changes you need a leader like Trump who knows how to be decisive and can make a decision and created a framework to carry out his decision,” Barkat said.

He said his campaign is intended to counter pressure from Palestinian leaders for Trump to scupper the move.

“I know the people involved” on Trump’s staff, “and it’s important for them to see our support,” he said.

Ultra-Orthodox men hold placards supporting then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at an event held by Republicans Overseas Israel in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men hold placards supporting then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at an event held by Republicans Overseas Israel in Jerusalem, October 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

For Barkat, whose eight years as mayor coincided with President Barack Obama’s two terms as president, the new administration is an opportunity to develop fresh relationships, both for Israel and for a politician with hopes of high national office.

“Unfortunately, we have gone through eight challenging years with demands for building freezes, surrenders to radical Islam, surrenders to the Iranians,” he said. “I hope that we are at the beginning of a new era of eight good years.”

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