US lawmakers make fact-finding trip for Jerusalem embassy move
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US lawmakers make fact-finding trip for Jerusalem embassy move

Congressional group meets with Netanyahu, touring sites around Jerusalem; Fatah warns move will 'explode situation in region'

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Likud MK Yehuda Glick, second left, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida, center, and their staffs, meeting in Jerusalem on March 5, 2017. (Courtesy)
Likud MK Yehuda Glick, second left, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida, center, and their staffs, meeting in Jerusalem on March 5, 2017. (Courtesy)

A group of American lawmakers visited Israel Sunday to examine a possible transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, taking a tentative first step toward the measure despite indications from the Trump administration that the controversial move may no longer be a priority.

The delegation, made up of members of the Subcommittee for National Security of the House Oversight Committee, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israel officials on Sunday morning.

Led by Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida, the group was set to visit possible sites for the American Embassy during its one-day trip.

There are a number of options for a US Embassy location in Jerusalem, including two consular buildings and a parcel of land on Hebron Road purchased in 1989 for the purpose of housing the embassy.

An illustrative photo of the US consulate in Jerusalem. (CC BY-SA, Magister/Wikimedia)
An illustrative photo of the US consulate in Jerusalem. (CC BY-SA, Magister/Wikimedia)

The panel is expected to brief Congress and the administration of its findings.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick, a US-born lawmaker who briefed the delegation on the city’s history and political significance, called on US President Donald Trump to keep to his campaign promise to move the embassy.

“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years, since King David. That’s a fact that nobody can deny,” he said. “Now is the time for the US president to keep his promise and the law passed by Congress in 1995 and lead the free world to recognize reality and declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Officials in the Arab world and elsewhere have warned against the embassy move, saying that it could threaten regional stability and spark violence. Palestinian officials have threatened a raft of punitive measures in response, including revoking recognition of Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Fatah spokesperson Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad said in a statement Saturday night that the US lawmakers “should understand that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem will not only explode the situation in Palestine but the whole … region,” according to the Palestinian Ma’an news outlet.

Trump had promised several times while running for president to move the embassy, but since taking office he and other officials have indicated that the move was only in the initial stages of being studied and may not come to fruition.

“I don’t want to talk about it yet. It’s too early,” Trump told Fox News when asked about the embassy move in late January.

Israeli lawmakers have long pushed for the embassy to move from Tel Aviv, where nearly all countries have their missions, seeing it as American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In 1995, Congress passed a law legislating the embassy move, but inserted a waiver to delay the measure for security reasons, which has been signed by every president every six months since.

The current waiver will expire at the end of May, forcing Trump to decide if he will extend it or comply with the congressional order.

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