Netanyahu denies holding up embassy move to Jerusalem
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Mark Zell backtracks a little, saying ostensible opposition from Netanyahu is 'one explanation' for the delay

Netanyahu denies holding up embassy move to Jerusalem

PM says all embassies should move to capital, after top GOP figure in Israel says government here, not Washington, may be dragging feet

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 29, 2017.  AFP/POOL/ABIR SULTAN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 29, 2017. AFP/POOL/ABIR SULTAN)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday flatly denied he was thwarting efforts to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, after a top Republican activist in Israel said the prime minister was holding up the move.

Marc Zell, the head of the Republican Party branch in Israel, charged in an interview Sunday morning that the Trump administration was waiting for Netanyahu’s office to approve the embassy relocation.

“The minute Jerusalem gives the green light, the embassy will definitely be moved to Jerusalem,” Zell told Army Radio. “We need to shutter the consulate general, along with all of its implications, and put up a sign for the Jerusalem Embassy.”

Zell appeared to walk back the statements in a subsequent interview to The Times of Israel, saying his remarks were based on his own personal assessment, not an official one.

“I didn’t say that I know; it’s my assessment in light of all of the information that I have,” he said. “It’s the one possible explanation why President Trump is moving slowly on this matter.”

Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Overseas Israel, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on November 9, 2016, a day after US Republican president candidate Donald Trump won the 2016 US election. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Overseas Israel, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on November 9, 2016, a day after US Republican president candidate Donald Trump won the 2016 US election. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s office responded by saying the claim that Jerusalem had requested the delay was “delusional.”

“The opposite is true. Israel’s position on this issue is known: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the US Embassy, as all other embassies, should be in Jerusalem,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read.

At the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu added that all countries should move their embassies to Israel.

“The position of Israel has been, and always will be, that the US Embassy should be here, in Jerusalem,” he said. It’s appropriate that all the other embassies should move to Jerusalem as well.”

Zell’s remarks come amid conflicting reports over whether Trump’s White House will make good on the potentially politically fraught plan, which has been welcomed by the Israeli government but sparked threats from the Palestinians and parts of the Arab world.

Zell, who attended Trump’s inauguration in Washington earlier this month, said his assessment was backed up by conversations with officials, speculating that Jerusalem was dragging its feet on approving the move in an effort to appease the King of Jordan ahead of his meeting with Trump in Washington DC next week.

“I spoke to many people, I won’t name names, but I spoke to enough people to say this is my assessment,” he said, pointing to the “extraordinary pace” with which Trump was fulfilling other campaign promises.

On Thursday, Trump told Fox News it was “too early” to discuss moving the embassy, and said he would wait “to see what happens” before making definitive decisions on the issue.

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Ori~/Wikimedia Commons/File)
The US Embassy in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Ori~/Wikimedia Commons/File)

Though Trump had been unequivocal about the embassy move since he first made the pledge during his campaign last year, the White House has already lowered expectations that the move may be in the immediate offing — with press secretary Sean Spicer saying last week “there’s no decision” on it.

But Zell on Sunday insisted the remarks were not an indication Trump’s administration would renege on the promise.

“I don’t believe that the statement President Trump made that it’s not yet the time to speak about moving the embassy indicates a change on his administration’s policy,” Zell said. “That’s my own assessment, I don’t see anything that’s indicated that this is the case.”

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