How the Top Republican in Israel Defends Trump's Broken Promises to Evangelicals

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Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel speaks as the Republican Party launches its first ever election campaign in Israel in Modiin, Aug. 15, 2016.
Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel speaks as the Republican Party launches its first ever election campaign in Israel in Modiin, Aug. 15, 2016. Credit: Ariel Schalit, AP Photo

The head of the Republican Party in Israel vowed on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump would relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as he promised during the election campaign, insisting that the latest delay in the move was merely tactical.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, Marc Zell, the chairman of Republican Overseas Israel, said: “The president will keep his promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and it will happen sooner than later.”

On Friday, Trump signed a waiver delaying the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem for another six months. Since 1995, all U.S. presidents have signed this waiver. 

Zell disclosed that the president did not finalize his decision until after he returned from his trip to Israel. “I can tell you from inside information that the president of the United States wrestled with the question of the move of the embassy to Jerusalem up until the very last minute of the June 1 deadline,” he told a gathering of right-wing Jewish and Christian supporters of the settlement movement. The conference, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, was sponsored by Breaking Israel News, an online publication that targets the international Christian evangelical community.

U.S. President Donald Trump during his meeting with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017.Credit: ATEF SAFADI/AP

Zell suggested that the reason Trump did not immediately fulfill his promise to move the embassy was concern that such a move might antagonize Arab leaders he wanted to mobilize against Iran.

“He [Trump] understands that the central problem in the Middle East is not the struggle between the Palestinian-Arabs and Israelis,” said Zell. “The central problem in the Middle East is the existential threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates in the region – Hamas, Hezbollah and others. And that the only way that this existential threat can be dealt with effectively is by close coordination, a coalition if you will, between Israel and the Sunni Arab states in the region.”

To foster such an alliance, Zell stressed, “It is extremely important that the Israeli-Palestinian issue not be thrust into the foreground of the geopolitical situation.” That is why, on his recent trip to Israel, Trump “was downplaying some of the things we were looking for him to say about Jerusalem and about the embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Zell said.

The local GOP leader also revealed details of clashes that played out behind the scenes concerning Trump’s visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Trump was the first sitting American president to visit the Jewish holy site. 

“When the folks in the State Department were organizing the trip initially and they talked about visiting the Western Wall, they insisted that he not meet with any Israelis during that visit, and one of the things we did – Republicans Overseas together with our other friends – is we convinced them that it’s extremely important that he meet the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi [Shmuel] Rabinowitz and his assistant, and that was something that happened.”

The reason he was so adamant about the Western Wall rabbi joining Trump on his trip to the holy site, said Zell, was “so that nobody could say this was somehow a private visit.” The Americans declined a request that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany Trump on his visit to the Western Wall.

The fact that Trump visited the Western Wall while in office, he added, “was an important statement about how this administration sees Jerusalem and its holy sites.”

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