Countering TV report, White House says Trump ‘undecided’ on Jerusalem visit
Hadashot news says US president will not visit for ribbon-cutting of new embassy in May, citing Israeli sources
US President Donald Trump has not yet decided if he will travel to Israel in May, when the US opens its new embassy in Jerusalem to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary, the White House said Tuesday.
The comment followed an Israeli TV report based on Israeli sources that said Trump had ruled out visiting Israel for the opening.
Asked to confirm the Hadashot TV news outlet report, White House spokesman Michael Anton told The Times of Israel the matter was “not decided.”
Trump in December bucked decades of US foreign policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and setting in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Earlier this month, the US said the move would take place to coincide with Israel’s 70th birthday.
Sitting across from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office on March 5 when the two men met in Washington, the American president was asked if he would travel to Israel to cut the ribbon on the new facility, almost a year after his first visit to Jerusalem as president.
“I may. I may,” he said. “We’re looking at coming. If I can, I will.”
Israeli sources now say that he will not be at the ceremony, according to the report. They did not cite a reason.
Israel marks its annual Independence Day — Yom Ha’Atzmaut — according to the Hebrew calendar date that this year falls on April 19.
However, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the embassy is being planned for mid-May as the State of Israel proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948.
The announcement of the May opening for the embassy was met with widespread anger among the Palestinians, prompting calls for enormous protest events, the largest of them planned for the Gaza Strip.
Expected protests will also coincide with Nakba Day, a national day of Palestinian mourning marking the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding, commemorated every year on May 15.
The Hamas terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip has warned it would not be able to contain the mass Palestinian protests against the embassy move. Earlier in March, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said “tens of thousands” of Gazans would march on the borders to protest the US move.
At first, the embassy will operate out of the US’s current consular premises in Arnona, south Jerusalem, with only the ambassador and a small staff. A permanent mission is slated to be built in the coming years.
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said he had given permission to fast track the planning process for the changes to the consulate building to allow it to become the workplace for Ambassador David Friedman, including a new wall and escape ramp.