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Arab League hopes Trump will reconsider Jerusalem embassy move

Top official says US president must be ‘more cautious’ now that campaign is behind him, relocation would be ‘aggression’ against Palestinians

Arab League diplomats attend a meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo on January 5, 2015. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed/File)
Arab League diplomats attend a meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo on January 5, 2015. (AFP/Mohamed el-Shahed/File)

An Arab League official said Sunday the organization hopes US President Donald Trump will retract his campaign pledge to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The position expressed by President Trump while campaigning needs to be more cautious,” Assistant Secretary General for Palestinian Affairs Said Abu Ali told reporters in Cairo.

Departing from Washington’s long-standing position, Trump promised to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the American mission there, a vow that drew a fierce rebuke from Palestinian officials and concern from the European Union.

The city’s status is one of the thorniest issues of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We look to the new US administration to reconsider its position so it can better act as an objective sponsor of the peace process,” Abu Ali said.

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Trump to keep his campaign pledge.

“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and it would be good if the American embassy wasn’t the only one to move here… I think that with time the majority of embassies will move to Jerusalem,” he was quoted as saying by his office.

The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.

“Transferring the American embassy to Jerusalem would be aggression against the rights of the Palestinian people in their eternal capital East Jerusalem,” Abu Ali said.

He said it would violate UN Security Council resolutions and be “a retreat from the historical American position” on the city’s status.

Two days after Trump’s inauguration, the White House appeared to play down suggestions that such a move was imminent, however.

“We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” press secretary Sean Spicer told AFP.

Trump’s pick for the new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a staunchly pro-Israel lawyer who opposes the two-state solution.

Trump has said “there’s nobody more pro-Israeli than I am,” and Friedman has said he looks forward to working from “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Also Sunday, Netanyahu denied he was thwarting efforts to move the embassy, 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.”

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)

Zell appeared to walk back the statements in a subsequent interview with 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.”

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.

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