Netanyahu insists he told Trump to move embassy to Jerusalem

Meeting minutes released to counter Fox News claim Israeli PM was opposed to move

US president Donald Trump and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu  at the White House in  February: It is  unclear  whether Mr Netanyahu’s intervention attested to a serious rift with the Trump administration or was pitched primarily at a domestic audience. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

US president Donald Trump and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House in February: It is unclear whether Mr Netanyahu’s intervention attested to a serious rift with the Trump administration or was pitched primarily at a domestic audience. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

 

Binyamin Netanyahu insisted on Monday that he had asked President Donald Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, highlighting a potentially explosive point of contention with the Americans just a week before the US president is due to make his first visit to Israel.

The Israeli prime minister released an excerpt of minutes from a February meeting at the White House with Mr Trump that his office said proved he called for the embassy to be moved. A Fox News correspondent had claimed the opposite: that the Israeli leader asked the US president not to move the embassy.

The exchange came as Mr Netanyahu sparred over the embassy issue with his right-wing domestic political opponents. The US president is due to visit Israel on May 22nd on his first foreign trip, which will also take him to Saudi Arabia and the Vatican.

Notes from the lunch meeting at the White House read: “The PM was asked about the embassy and explained that [moving it] would not lead to bloodshed in the region, as some were trying to intimidate [Mr Trump] into believing.” The notes were released on Monday by Mr Netanyahu’s office.

“The claims by a Fox News correspondent are false,” Mr Netanyahu’s office said.

Earlier on Monday Conor Powell, a Jerusalem-based reporter for the US network, tweeted: “Everyone I’ve spoken to in DC that has been briefed on Jerusalem embassy move says Netanyahu told Trump not to move embassy at this time.”

Palestinian and other Arab leaders have warned the Trump administration that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would risk stirring popular anger and possible unrest, as the Palestinians view the city’s eastern half as their capital and because of the city’s significance to Muslims.

The US and other countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Mr Trump promised to move the embassy during his campaign but since taking office has softened his stance on the issue after meeting Arab leaders whose support he wants to enlist as part of a regional Israel-Palestinian peace deal.

Serious rift

It was unclear on Monday whether Mr Netanyahu’s intervention attested to a serious rift with the new Republican administration or was pitched primarily at a domestic audience.

Since Mr Trump took office in January, the Israeli far-right has called on the prime minister to profit from the incoming Republican administration’s pro-Israel bent by pressing issues on which previous US presidents would not be budged, such as the location of the US embassy.

Two of the Israeli leader’s leading political rivals, far-right education minister Naftali Bennett and centre-right opposition politician Yair Lapid, both insisted this week that the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem.

Separately, Israelis were riled on Monday by a report on Channel 2 news that a member of the US delegation making preparations for Mr Trump’s visit rejected a request that Mr Netanyahu accompany Mr Trump when he visits the Western Wall, the Jewish religious site that lies in Jerusalem’s Israeli-occupied eastern half. Israel claims the entire city as its undivided capital.

“It’s not your territory,” Israeli television quoted the unnamed official as having said. “It’s part of the West Bank.”

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017)