Trump team, Netanyahu renew talks on US embassy move to Jerusalem
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Trump team, Netanyahu renew talks on US embassy move to Jerusalem

Hot-button issue was 'brought up by both sides' in discussions last week between the PM and US envoys Kushner and Greenblatt

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

L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv on August 24, 2017.  (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv on August 24, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Senior members of the Trump administration and Israeli officials renewed talks over the possibility of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise repeatedly made by the president in the 2016 election campaign, during high-level meetings in Israel last week, the Times of Israel has learned.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday as part of a visit to the region in a bid to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

During that meeting, the embassy move “was brought up by both sides as part of a productive broad conversation about a number of issues,” a US source familiar with the discussions said Sunday, declining to reveal the specifics of discussion.

Trump backtracked on the pledge in June, signing a waiver which pushed off moving the embassy for at least another six months.

“Needless to say, the administration’s policy is ‘when not if,'” the source added, referring to statements US officials made when signing the waiver promising that the move would take place during Trump’s presidency.

US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Earlier Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely had told The Times of Israel that issue did not come up during last week’s meetings, to her disappointment. “We were told that the move [of the embassy] would go ahead but it wasn’t on the table and there hasn’t been any progress on it. I hope there will be soon,” she said.

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office, however, rejected Hotovely’s statements, saying that she was not aware of the content of the discussions. “She wasn’t in any of the meetings and to put it charitably, she is wrong,” they said.

They confirmed that the issue was discussed but, like their US counterparts, declined to comment on the details of the conversations.

Netanyahu said after the talks that they were “helpful and meaningful,” and that he “expects the talks to continue in the coming weeks.” A statement from his office added that “the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation to President [Donald] Trump and the Trump administration for its strong support of Israel.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaking at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem (Elram Mendel)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaking at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem (Elram Mendel)

Kushner told Netanyahu that Trump was committed to help broker a peace deal and thanked the prime minister for working with the White House toward that goal.

“The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area,” he said. “We really appreciate the commitment of the prime minister and his team to engaging very thoughtfully and and respectfully in the way that the president has asked him to do so.”

When Trump signed the waiver, White House officials said that moving the embassy at this stage could jeopardize efforts to bring the two sides together.

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, a move never recognized by the international community. Israel declared the city its undivided capital, but the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would be seen as endorsing Israel’s claim to the city and rejecting the Palestinians’. Countries with ties to Israel typically place their embassies in Tel Aviv; some have consulates in Jerusalem.

The US says its policy on Jerusalem hasn’t changed and that Jerusalem’s status must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.

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