Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently denied a Fox News reporter’s claim that he told President Donald Trump not to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In a post on his Twitter account on Monday, Fox News correspondent Conor Powell wrote that “everyone” he has spoken to familiar with the deliberations on moving the embassy has confirmed that Netanyahu told Trump not to go through with the move.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to in DC that has been briefed on #Jerusalem embassy move says #Netanyahu told #Trump not to move embassy at this time,” he tweeted.
Netanyahu’s office firmly denied the report, flatly calling it a “lie,” and, in a highly unusual move, released what it said were partial minutes of Netanyahu’s conversations with Trump at the White House in February to disprove the claim.
“The embassy — the PM supports moving it,” wrote then-national security adviser Yaakov Nagel, following Netanyahu and Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office, according to the PMO.
“The PM was asked about the embassy and explained [that moving it] would not lead to bloodshed in the region, as some were trying to intimidate [President Trump] into believing,” Nagel wrote after the two leaders met over lunch.
— Conor Powell (@ConormPowell) May 15, 2017
The PMO also released a portion of a summary from a conversation in January between Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and then US national security adviser designate Michael Flynn prior to Trump’s inauguration.
“[Dermer] explained why moving the embassy would help advance peace and not the opposite.
“This would send the message that we are in Jerusalem to stay. Moving the embassy would force the other side to contend with the lie they’ve constructed — that Israel has no connection to Jerusalem — and will cause them to understand that Israel will be here forever with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Powell’s tweet on Monday came after Netanyahu again publicly reiterated his support on Sunday for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, rejecting sniping from the Israeli right that he does not privately enthuse about the idea, and saying it would help advance peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the US government and to the world,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will not only not harm the peace process, it will advance it by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s remarks came in response to comments by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Trump is currently assessing whether moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would help or hurt prospects for clinching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
“The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact a peace process,” Tillerson said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said Trump’s decision would be informed by feedback from all sides, “most certainly” including “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
Since taking office, Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to move the embassy in a gesture to Israel, saying he’s still studying the issue. But Tillerson linked Trump’s deliberations directly to his aspirations for brokering Mideast peace.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most emotionally charged issues in the conflict, with both sides laying claims. Israel captured East Jerusalem — claimed by Palestinians for the capital of a future independent state — from Jordan in the 1967 war and annexed it, a move not internationally recognized.
The Palestinians argue that moving the embassy would prejudge one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict, undermining America’s status as an effective mediator.
US presidents of both parties have repeatedly waived a US law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. The most recent waiver — signed by former president Barack Obama — expires on June 1. Trump is seen as increasingly likely to sign a six-month renewal of the waiver before it expires, as he continues deliberating.
On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that while he believes the US embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, the issue should not be turned into a public spat with Washington, in apparent rebuke of political leaders from both sides of the aisle who have echoed Netanyahu in urging that the US embassy be brought to the capital as a way of cementing Israeli sovereignty over the city.
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.