Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday warned against turning the issue of the US moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem into a spat with Washington, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his call for the move.
Netanyahu was joined by political leaders from both sides of the aisle urging that the US mission be brought to the capital as a way of cementing Israeli sovereignty over the city.
“Our stance has been clear over the years: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Liberman declared, responding to a question on the proposed relocation at the start of the weekly Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting.
“And even among the greatest friends there are differences of opinion. This is not the first time we’ve had differences of opinion with the United States, on this question or any other,” he said, adding that US President Donald Trump was leading a “friendly administration.”
“You don’t need to “turn it into a fight or a tragedy,” he added. “Here, too, you need to transcend your instincts and try and handle it in a respectful, organized fashion. Less in the media, more in private conversation.”
At the Likud weekly faction meeting, party leader Netanyahu repeated his insistence that “not only will it not harm the peace process, but it will fix it. It will fix a historical tragedy that and show the Palestinians that in any negotiations Jerusalem will always remain the capital of Israel.”
“I will say it again, it is my definitive opinion that the US embassy needs to come here to Jerusalem , just as all the embassies need to,” Netanyahu said to applause.
Liberman also chided his fellow ministers for going head-to-head publicly with Netanyahu over the upcoming Trump visit, in an apparent reference to Education Minister Naftali Bennett who in recent weeks has publicly pressed Netanyahu to make firm demands from the US, including relocating the embassy.
Spats played out in the media “don’t strengthen our negotiating position — neither with the Palestinians nor with the United States,” he said.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump was deliberating whether the embassy relocation would help or harm peace prospects, prompting Netanyahu to release a statement saying relocation will boost efforts in that it will “shatter Palestinian fantasies” of Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Ahead of Trump’s visit to Israel next week, Bennett said Israel must make clear that a Palestinian state “ain’t going to happen.”
At the start of his Jewish Home weekly faction meeting, the education minister also conceded right-wing disappointment in Trump’s shifting tune on Israel and the Palestinians, saying that there was a “change” in his views since his election campaign and that “the source of that change is unclear.”
Bennett said that his experience doing business in the US has taught him two things: that Americans value honesty and that one must make clear what he wants.
A Palestinian state “ain’t going to happen,” said Bennett, switching to English. “And we should say this.”
Bennett reiterated his support for Palestinian autonomy without statehood and for economic initiatives to better the Palestinians’ lives. And he said Israel must clarify that it will never relinquish control over any part of Jerusalem.
The minister welcomed Trump’s visit, saying it has “strategic value” and reflects the “deep friendship” between Israel and the United States.
Yesh Atid faction chairman Yair Lapid stressed the centrality of Jerusalem, saying that Israel should not give in to “threats” over its request that the United States move its embassy to Jerusalem.
“I join the prime minister’s call to the president of the United States to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem,” he told Yesh Atid MKs during a tour of the Six Day War memorial at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill.
“We cannot let the threat of riots influence us. Israel and the United States do not determine policy based on threats but on what is right and what is just. And there is nothing more just — historically and morally — than our connection to Jerusalem.”
“We are here to say that we are here to stay. Jerusalem will remain united forever,” he said, noting that the memorial site “symbolizes the great victory of the Six Day War.”
Referring to recent White House comments and Israeli media reports, Lapid said he welcomes efforts “to try to restart the diplomatic process” with the Palestinians.
“Like all the Israeli center — from Likud to Labor — Yesh Atid supports the principle of two states. It’s time to separate from the Palestinians, to divorce the Palestinians,” he said.
Opposition chair Isaac Herzog told his weekly Zionist Union faction meeting that Trump’s visit to Israel next week is a “decisive” moment in Israeli history.
“After Trump’s visit we will know not just if we have a partner or not, but if we have a prime minister who understands the need for an agreement or a prime minister who plans to continue to hide from the greatest Zionist challenge of the 21st century: separating from the Palestinians,” he said.
“We need a brave Israeli leader who can stand up and face the challenge,” he added.
Herzog said he would continue to work toward forming “a centrist, Zionist and responsible political bloc that will fulfill the task of saving Zionism and protecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state for generations to come.”