Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would boost peace efforts by impressing on the Palestinians the city is the capital of the Jewish state.
After US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier Sunday that the Trump administration was evaluating whether relocating the US mission to Jerusalem would help or harm the peace process, Netanyahu released a statement arguing the move would advance peace efforts.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the US government and to the world,” Netanyahu said. “Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will not only not harm the peace process, it will advance it by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”
On Thursday, Netanyahu said that all foreign embassies in Israel should be located in Jerusalem, chief among them the American embassy.
Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to move the embassy in a gesture to Israel, saying he’s still studying the issue. But Tillerson linked Trump’s deliberations directly to his aspirations for brokering Mideast peace.
“The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact the peace process,” Tillerson said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said Trump’s decision would be informed by feedback from all sides, including “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
Trump’s decision is being closely watched as the US president prepares to depart Friday on his first foreign trip. After stopping in Saudi Arabia, Trump will visit both Israel and the West Bank, in a nod to his nascent bid to strike the Israeli-Palestinian deal that has eluded his predecessors.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most emotionally charged issues in the conflict, with both sides laying claims. Israel captured East Jerusalem — claimed by Palestinians for the capital of a future independent state — from Jordan in the 1967 war and annexed it, a move not internationally recognized.
US presidents of both parties have repeatedly waived a US law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. The most recent waiver — signed by former president Barack Obama — expires on June 1. Trump is seen as increasingly likely to sign a six-month renewal of the waiver before it expires, as he continues deliberating.
In another sign the White House is proceeding cautiously, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, plans to work out of the current embassy in Tel Aviv rather than out of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, as some had urged him to do. Friedman, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem, is expected to live in the US ambassador’s official residence in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herziliya.
Palestinians argue that moving the embassy would prejudge one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict, undermining America’s status as an effective mediator. There have been some signs that the Israeli government, while publicly supportive of moving the embassy, has quietly raised concerns that doing so could inflame the political and security situation.
Earlier on Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett urged Netanyahu to push Trump about transferring the embassy to Jerusalem. Bennett, who leads the nationalist Jewish Home party, also stated the move would help peace, saying it would help cement the unity of the city under Israeli control, whereas “any agreement based on dividing Jerusalem is doomed to fail.”