Netanyahu on Trump's Jerusalem Declaration: Our National, Historical Identity Being Recognized Today

Breaking with traditional U.S. policy, Trump is expected to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital Wednesday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at a Jerusalem Post conference in Jerusalem, December 6, 2017
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel's "historical and national identity is receiving important expressions every day, but especially today." The prime minister was speaking in a Facebook video ahead of the expected announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Earlier Wednesday, in his first public comments since the White House confirmed Trump will make the Jerusalem announcement, Netanyahu avoided any mention of the decision. Instead, the prime minister focused his remarks on the Iranian threat to the region on Wednesday.

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In his speech at a conference held by the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu warned against the threat Iran poses, saying the Islamic Republic seeks to "conquer the Middle East." The prime minister warned that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a foothold in Syria.

"We say what we mean and mean what we say," Netanyahu said. The prime minister called on other nations to pressure Iran, while at the same time support the Iranian people.

Netanyahu also reviewed Israel's diplomatic relationships with the rest of the world.

He was expected to respond to Trump's Tuesday decision to declare Jerusalem Israel's capital and possibly begin moving the U.S. embassy to the city.

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On Tuesday, Israeli ministers were instructed, per the White House’s request, to keep mum on the issue until a final decision is made by President Trump on whether or not to sign the waiver that would determine the future of the embassy for the next six months.

However, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also spoke at the conference, called on other nations to follow Trump's lead and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.

Netanyahu described a survey commissioned by the Foreign Ministry on how people feel about Israel in more than 50 countries, notably including the Arab nations. The attitude towards Israel among the majority in the Arab nations has been changing, because of developing economic ties, Netanyahu said, calling it a "revolution".

A giant screen behind the prime minister showed, among other things, a map marking the countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, and the names of major Israeli companies operating globally. 

As Netanyahu was speaking about the strengthening diplomatic ties between Israel and the world, China and Russia expressed concern over Trump's expected recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. China warned on Wednesday that Trump's decision could fuel tensions in the region, AFP reported.

"We are concerned about the possible escalation of tensions," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. In Moscow, the Kremlin said Russia is concerned with the difficult situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli MK Yair Lapid spoke prior to Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying "Moving the embassy is the right thing to do. Now is the time to do what is right." 

President Reuven Rivlin also addressed the expected announcement by the American president later on Wednesday, saying that neighboring Arab countries that oppose a recognition of Jerusalem as the capital need to resign themselves to Israel's sovereignty.

"Our neighbors ought to understand, whether they like it or not, that we are here to stay," Rivlin said.

Relating to warnings by several world powers that a potential move by Trump might botch peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Rivlin said that "Jerusalem is a microcosm [demonstrating] our ability to live together or the difficult recognition that we may, heaven forbid, not be able to live together and the conflict is eternal."

"Over the past hundred years," the Israeli president continued, "the mutual trust between us has eroded. We need to have trust in each other, without it and without trusting each other and acknowledging one another we are in trouble and it is time to recognize that."

On a more personal note, Rivlin said that he is "a citizen of the State of Israel, I was born here and I am a seventh generation [of his family] in Jerusalem. I have political outlooks and I was a party member. I never changed my stances." 

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz  hailed the expected declaration by Trump, saying: "This is a historic day for the State of Israel! I praise the decision of President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and I expect the international community to support Trump's decision."

Trump will announce his official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Wednesday, the White House has confirmed early Wednesday. While the president intends to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he will nevertheless sign a presidential waiver delaying the move by six months for "logistical reasons," senior White House officials said in press briefing.