Netanyahu calls for US embassy move after head of Republicans in Israel says PM holding up plan

Marcy Oster

U.S. embassy

The Embassy of the United States of America in Tel Aviv, June 14, 2016. (Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that the U.S. embassy should be relocated to Jerusalem, after the head of the Republican Party in Israel said Netanyahu was holding up its move.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it is proper that not only should the American embassy be here, but all embassies should come here, and I believe that over time most of them will indeed come here, to Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said Sunday morning at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

He also said that: “I would like to note again that our fundamental alliance is with the United States. There is no substitute for this alliance. Our relations are tight and getting tighter and I would like to take this opportunity to make it unequivocally clear that our position has always been, and will always be, that the U.S. embassy needs to be here, in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu appeared to be responding to an Army Radio interview earlier Sunday with Marc Zell, the co-chairman of the Republicans Overseas organization in Israel.

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“The minute Jerusalem gives the green light, the embassy will definitely be moved to Jerusalem,” Zell told Army Radio on Sunday. “We need to shutter the consulate general, along with all of its implications, and put up a sign for the Jerusalem Embassy.”

Zell was doubling down on an interview with him published Saturday night in Haaretz, in which he stated that: “Trump has been unequivocally in favor of moving the embassy and remains so” but “he is proceeding cautiously because of concerns raised by Israeli officials.”

He also said in that interview that: “Trump has repeatedly stated that his administration will respect the wishes of the Israeli government and people on issues concerning the Land of Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular,” Zell said.

Zell also noted in both interviews that the United States refrained from criticizing Israel for the announcement last week of the approval of the construction of at least 2,500 housing units in communities in Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank.

Zell later on Sunday told the Times of Israel that his remarks regarding the embassy move were based on his own personal assessment, and not on anything official.

“I didn’t say that I know, it’s my assessment in light of all of the information that I have,” he told the Times of Israel. “It’s the one possible explanation why President Trump is moving slowly on this matter.”

When asked Thursday in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity about moving the embassy to Jerusalem, a move Trump said he favored during the campaign, the president said, “I don’t want to talk about it yet. It’s too early.”

In 1995, Congress passed a law mandating a move to Jerusalem, but allowed presidents to waive it every six months for national security reasons; successive presidents have done so. Trump would need to issue a waiver by the end of May if he chooses not to move the embassy.

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