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TEL AVIV – Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would help peace efforts by “shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday.
His remarks followed those made earlier in the day by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which he said the White House was reviewing whether relocating the embassy to Jerusalem would help or harm the peace process.
“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the U.S. government and to the world,” Netanyahu said. “Moving the U.S. 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 reiterated his belief that all foreign embassies should relocate to Jerusalem, the “eternal capital of the Jewish people.”
Earlier on Sunday, Tillerson said it was not clear whether an embassy move would help or harm prospects for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“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 added that Trump would base his decision on the interests of all sides, but would also consider “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”
However, last week the White House denied rumors that Trump had shelved plans for the embassy move. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the “president has not made a decision yet and is still reviewing that.”
Sanders was questioned about a report on the Hebrew-language news site NRG that said Netanyahu had received notice that Trump would renege on his campaign promise and sign a waiver on the congressional mandate to move the embassy on June 1. That waiver has been signed every six months by U.S. presidents since 1995.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied receiving any such information.
“Israel’s position is that all embassies, particularly the U.S. embassy, should be in Israel’s capital – Jerusalem,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Speculation is rife that Trump will announce an embassy transfer while on a visit to Israel next week. Trump’s two-day visit will coincide with Jerusalem Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the 1967 defensive war.
Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) also said earlier this month that Trump would use his visit to announce the embassy relocation.
“What better time could there be to announce the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem than when you are over here celebrating with our Israeli friends this very important 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem?” he said.
When asked whether Arab threats were influencing Trump, Deputy Press Secretary Sanders declined to answer.
“I’m not going to get into the decision-making process,” she said. “All I can tell you is that he’s still reviewing it and as soon as we have a decision, I know we’ll be happy to report back to you guys.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in January that if Trump moves the embassy it will “destroy the peace process.”
His senior aide and the PA’s supreme Sharia judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash said an embassy transfer would be a “declaration of war.”
Last week, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said it would be “extremely ill-advised” for Trump to relocate the U.S. mission to Jerusalem.
Also on Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett echoed Netanyahu’s sentiment, saying the embassy move would help peace by affirming the unity of the city under Israeli control, whereas “any agreement based on dividing Jerusalem is doomed to fail.”