Education Minister Naftali Bennett used a visit by US President Donald Trump to ramp up lobbying for US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Monday.
After unsuccessfully springing a request for recognition on Trump during a brief handshake at Ben Gurion Airport early Monday afternoon, Bennett, head of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, persisted in urging the US policy shift later in the day.
“As the leader of the free world, and of Israel’s best friend, you have the historic opportunity to be the first leader to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital,” Bennett said at a speech to the World Mizrahi Movement. ”On behalf of the Israeli people left and right, and on behalf of Jews around the world, I call on you today: President Trump please make history! Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital!”
Bennett also called the international community’s inability to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state an “historic anomaly.”
On behalf of the Israeli people, please recognize Jerusalem as Israel's united capital.
You can do this!
(Pic: bardugo) pic.twitter.com/T72RTel6yF
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) May 22, 2017
The leader of the pro-settlement party also said he would not agree to “give even one centimeter of land to our enemies.”
Earlier in the day, after Trump landed at Ben Gurion Airport, Bennett gave the US president a similar message when the two shook hands on the tarmac.
“It’s 50 years since we unified Jerusalem,” Bennett told Trump while grasping his hand. “Now is the time to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said.
“That’s an idea,” Trump replied, before moving onto the next minister in the line.
Bennett’s comments, which were also echoed to Trump when he met Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), came after a rift appeared to form between the US and Israel as the Trump administration refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, considered the holiest site where Jews may pray.
Trump had called Jerusalem “Israel’s eternal capital” and vowed to move the US embassy there while campaigning for president, but has since appeared to retreat from those stances. “President Trump has not yet made a decision on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and doesn’t plan on making a decision on this issue until after his visit,” a US official told The Times of Israel last week.
According to a Thursday Channel 2 report, US officials were reportedly very unhappy with Bennett, saying he is primarily responsible for Trump’s decision to postpone moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
One of Trump’s advisers told the Israeli team, “If there is one person who buried the chances of moving the embassy it is Naftali Bennett,” the report said.
Earlier in May, the Jewish Home chairman said that “any agreement based on dividing Jerusalem is doomed to fail.” He also told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand that the White House move the embassy.
Bennett then responded to the allegations, saying that his task is to serve Israel, not the Trump administration.
“Bennett welcomes Trump on his first visit to Israel,” a spokesperson for the minister said. “However, at the same time he protects Israel’s security and guards its policies.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.
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