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'It’s not the right thing to do'

State Department ‘not aware’ of efforts to move US embassy to Jerusalem

Spokesperson tells CNN he is ‘not privy’ to any relocation plans, stresses move would not be constructive to peace

US State Department spokesman John Kirby briefs reporters on August 18, 2016. (screen capture/US State Department)
US State Department spokesman John Kirby briefs reporters on August 18, 2016. (screen capture/US State Department)

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday he was unaware of any efforts by the incoming Trump administration to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

During his election campaign, US President-elect Donald Trump vowed to relocate the embassy, a move that is vehemently opposed by the Arab world and pro-Palestinian supporters and would have significant diplomatic impact. Previous Republican candidates have made the promise without following through.

“We’re not privy to any moves, any decisions or active efforts to go ahead and move the embassy,” Kirby told CNN. “If that’s happening, and I’m certainly in no position to judge, we’re not aware of specific moves that are being made to that end.

“Our position has been and remains that moving the embassy is not constructive to the peace process, it’s not the right thing to do,” he said, adding that that “wise” policy has been also upheld by previous US administrations.

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.

His intended ambassador to Israel David Friedman said last month that he looked forward to working “from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said subsequently that the PLO would revoke its recognition of Israel if the US moved the embassy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it would be “great” if the embassy is moved.

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 a month ago. 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.

The US Embassy building in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
The US Embassy building in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

In December 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.

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