Israeli officials rushed to welcome the next president of the United States on Friday, as Donald Trump prepared to be sworn in at noon, while reports emerged that the defense establishment has been planning for potentially violent fallout if the new administration makes good on the pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his congratulations to “President Trump” a little prematurely — several hours before the president-elect was scheduled to officially assume the title following his inauguration in Washington, D.C.
Members of the Israeli government have been vocally supportive of the plan to move the embassy, which Trump vowed to do while on the campaign trail and after his victory in November.
The politically charged move has, however, caused outrage among Palestinians who see part of Jerusalem as their future capital, and it was on Thursday indirectly condemned by foreign ministers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
“Congrats to my friend President Trump,” Netanyahu wrote Friday on Twitter. “Look fwd to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel&USA stronger than ever.”
Congrats to my friend President Trump. Look fwd to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel&USA stronger than ever. ????????????????
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) January 20, 2017
Jewish Home Leader Naftali Bennett, who has hailed the new administration as an opportunity for Israel to begin annexing parts of the West Bank, also issued a welcome.
“President Trump, in the name of the people in Israel, congratulations and good luck!” Bennett said in recorded message in English. “We look forward to a deep and strong relationship. May God bless our nations.”
National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio on Friday that he hoped the Trump administration would uphold the pledge to relocate the embassy.
“We are all praying that alongside the humor and colorfulness, Trump will understand the weight of responsibility on his shoulders and will prove to be a brave and serious president,” Steinitz said. “I hope and believe that he will move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. It is absurd that the embassies are in Tel Aviv — the United States should be the first to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem, and afterwards other countries will [do the same] in time.”
According to a report Friday in Haaretz newspaper, officials from the IDF, police and Shin Bet earlier this week presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior members of the cabinet — among them Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan — with scenarios that could result from relocating the embassy.
The prime minister instructed the security officials to prepare for such a possibility from the moment that the new president is sworn in.
Haaretz quoted two senior Israeli officials familiar with topics raised at the meeting as saying that Netanyahu and others present made it clear that Israel has no solid information on if and when Trump will issue a notice to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem.
One of the officials said Netanyahu has spoken with Trump by phone several times since the election, but at the time of the meeting, had not received a clear answer from the new president about the timing of an embassy relocation
According to Haaretz, the two officials said that the purpose of the meeting was to prepare for possible repercussions from the relocation of the embassy, particularly in light of a media campaign being waged against it by the Palestinian Authority. One of the officials said there has even been explicit incitement to violence by Palestinian officials in recent weeks regarding the matter.
Nonetheless, officials from the Shin Bet, Military Intelligence and the police’s intelligence division told the meeting that there has been no specific information on any plans to carry out attacks or disturbances should the embassy be transferred.
One of the scenarios presented to the ministers, Haaretz said, was that the move could even evoke a relatively muted response, with the Palestinians solely confining their reactions to the media and political sphere.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) paid tribute Friday to President Barack Obama, who leaves office as soon as Trump is sworn in, for his “friendship and support” for Israel, and expressed the certainty that the close relationship between the two countries would continue.
“This is the time to say thank you to outgoing US President Barack Obama and his administration for eight years of friendship and support, a noble effort to promote peace, a constant contribution to Israel’s security and for strengthening the State of Israel’s most important strategic alliance,” Herzog said.
“I wish the incoming president, Donald Trump, good luck with the start of his term as the leader of the free world,” Herzog continued. “I am convinced that we will continue to maintain and strengthen the strategic alliance between our two nations, which share common values and interests, first and foremost democracy, equality, freedom and the constant pursuit of peace and security. We here in Israel will strive during his term to reach real peace with our Palestinian neighbors, based on the principles of security and regional cooperation with the moderate countries in a changing Middle East.”