AACI Panel: Netanyahu told Trump to postpone moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem

According to a panel held at AACI Netanya, US President Donald Trump postponed moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked him to. However, Mark Zell, head of Republicans in Israel, stated that Trump very much wants to relocate the US Embassy and he believes that it will happen over the next several months.
Photo Credit: AACI Netanya

Recently, Barry Shaw, the Public Diplomacy head at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, hosted a panel at AACI Netanya that discussed US President Donald Trump’s plan to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and why it got postponed. Mark Zell, the head of Republicans in Israel, stated that Trump very much wants to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and that he believes that it will happen over the next several months.

However, according to Zell, shortly after Trump was inaugurated and the Israeli government realized that he was serious about relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli government asked him to move the embassy slowly: “That is what is happening. It is not a question of whether to move the embassy. Israel’s policy remains unaltered. It is a question of timing. Look, there are things happening in the region.”

Jeff Daube, the Israel director of the Zionist Organization of America, confirmed what Zell stated: “I heard in the Knesset sometime after January 20 that Trump was prepared to go forward with the embassy move to Jerusalem but he was told in a phone conversation with Bibi to hold off. The claim that the Trump administration was backing off from that commitment is not the case. They were asked to back off from that commitment. They were given some very good reasons."

Daube related that the Israeli government is trying to build a covert alliance with some Arab countries: "Making a move like that could jeopardize that delicate balance and they would have to back off from even a covert alliance with Israel. The fact of the matter is that Jordan had difficulties with that. They do not want to agitate the population in Jordan. We don’t want to destabilize Jordan. If that would cause a problem, perhaps now is not the time to do it.” 

“I think that it makes sense not to throw the embassy issue into the face of these regional actors,” Zell stated. “If the embassy moves, it should happen in a quiet fashion that won’t pour fuel on the fire for it is a decision that is likely to be controversial in certain quarters of the region and world. However, it will happen. It just needs to happen in a proper fashion.”

Regardless of when it happens, Zell emphasized that it is important for the US Embassy to relocate to Jerusalem in order to declare that the city is Israel’s undivided eternal capital city. In addition, Zell believes that it is crucial for it will put an end to the Consular General in East Jerusalem, which serves mainly the Palestinians: “If the US wishes to have diplomatic representation for the Palestinian Arabs, they can do it in an area they are controlling like Ramallah, not Jerusalem.”

Daube concurred, stressing that Israel will have a 15 minute hit on CNN no matter what so he believed that this is not a reason not to relocate the embassy. Nevertheless, he emphasized that there are 800 employees in the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and it will take them all time to move. Given that, he suggested that Trump merely not sign the waiver for the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which will automatically compel the US State Department to start to take actions to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Daube also suggests that American citizens born in Jerusalem have Israel written as their birth country on their passports. And, he emphasized that the US Consulate can be made into the US Embassy by merely having the signs switched and by ensuring that the official Ambassador’s residence will be in Jerusalem: “They don’t have to move the embassy over.”

Regardless of how Israel feels about the matter, former Israel Consul General Yoram Ettinger stressed that relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem is an American interest and failing to relocate the US Embassy would reflect weakness on the part of the American administration in the face of Arab threats: “At a time when the President is trying to resurrect US deterrence, failing to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem would further harm US deterrence. Failing to relocate it in the face of Arab threats and pressure will further radicalize Arab positions in the negotiations with Israel. Therefore, it will introduce another obstacle for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

However, Ettinger believers that Trump for sure will do it: “Relocating the embassy would certainly be in line with Donald Trump’s character and state of mind, which is fundamentally anti-establishment and being politically incorrect. Trump’s attempt to defy political correctness in Washington can be significantly expressed by relocating the embassy to Jerusalem. I would be very surprised if the Trump administration acts against its own state of mind, its own commitments and thus retreating at the time when there is a need to defy threats of terrorism and assaults on the USA.”

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