The Israeli ambassador to the United States has urged the incoming Trump administration to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, telling guests at a Hanukkah reception at the Israeli embassy in Washington on Tuesday that the controversial move would be a “great step forward” for peace.
Trump and his nominee for US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, have pledged to move the embassy. But previous Republican presidents have made that promise without following through.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer added at the reception that such a move would send a “strong message against [the] delegitimization of Israel.”
The US and nearly every other country have their embassies in Tel Aviv. Israel considers Jerusalem its capital, but Palestinians claim part of eastern Jerusalem as the capital for a future Palestinian state.
US presidents have repeatedly waived a law requiring the embassy to be moved, but Trump has signaled real intention to go ahead with his campaign promise.
Trump’s transition team has begun exploring the logistics of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, and checking into sites for its intended new location, Israeli TV reported last week.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry is involved in the matter, with officials in Jerusalem checking into when a possible site for the embassy, in an area that includes the Diplomat Hotel in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, would be available, Channel 2 reported.
Also last week, Trump’s senior aide Kellyanne Conway said moving the embassy was a “very big priority for this president-elect, Donald Trump.” Conway told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, in a lengthy interview discussing Trump’s transition to the White House: “He made it very clear during the campaign, and as president-elect, I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly.”
During the election, Trump pledged to end the longstanding White House policy to perpetually defer a 1995 Congressional decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move the embassy there.
“It is something that our friend Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish-Americans have expressed their preference for,” Conway said. “It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the soundbites.”
Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama renewed a presidential waiver that again delayed plans to relocate the embassy for another six months.
In keeping with every other presidential administration over the last 20 years, Obama cited “national security interests” in waiving Congress’s 1995 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there.
The most often cited argument against Washington recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and moving its embassy, is that such a move should only come after the successful conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The status of Jerusalem is subject to bilateral negotiations, diplomats generally argue, and relocating the embassy as a gesture to Israel before a final-status agreement is signed would greatly anger Palestinians and the larger Arab world, sending an already moribund peace process to its certain death.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that it would be “great” if Trump made good on his campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, even as some Israeli security and diplomatic officials, according to reports, are worried about the consequences of an immediate relocation, with fears of adverse reactions from the Arab world and on the streets of Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.