Netanyahu: Trump's Idea to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Is 'Great'

Prime minister's comments during his visit to Azerbaijan come day after president-elect's aide says moving the embassy is a 'very big priority' for Trump.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) stands next to then-Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump during their meeting in New York, September 25, 2016.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) stands next to then-Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump during their meeting in New York, September 25, 2016. Kobi Gideon / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's plan to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is "great."

Speaking to journalists accompanying him during a visit in Azerbaijan, Netanyahu added that Trump supports Israel and appreciates Israel's desire for peace. According to Netanyahu, Israel appreciates the fact that it's more widely supported in the U.S. compared to most countries in the worldת adding that the U.S. understands that Israel must decide its own fate and make decisions about its future.

Netanyahu's remarks come a day after Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said that the president-elect is determined to move the embassy after he takes office on January 20.

"That is very big priority for this president-elect, Donald Trump," Conway said in a radio interview Monday. "He made it very clear during the campaign," she said, adding that she has heard him reiterate it on several occasions in private meetings since he was elected.

The issue of the U.S. embassy being located in Tel Aviv goes back to just after the founding of Israel, and has been a major bone of contention throughout the years.

The official U.S. State Department policy is that the status of Jerusalem will only be determined in final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It does not recognize Jerusalem, even the westerns sections that were always under Israeli control, as the capital. The State Department officially considers Jerusalem to have never been under the sovereignty of any country since the British Mandate ended in 1948, and is waiting for the conclusion of final status negotiations.

Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 however, the United States is required to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999 - but it also offers the president an escape, if he signs a waiver twice a year based on "national security" concerns the move may be postponed.

Trump has promised on numerous occasions, including personally to Netanyahu in a meeting in late September, to quickly move the embassy to Jerusalem. According to a Trump campaign press release, Trump told Netanyahu that if elected, "a Trump administration would finally accept the long-standing Congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel."

Trump is not the first presidential candidate to promise to move the embassy, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made similar promises, but once in office they signed the waiver required to avoid following through with the move.

Arab countries and the Palestinians are expected to react harshly if the United States does relocate its embassy, and while Israeli leaders regularly speak of the need to move it, they have avoided applying any real pressure on the Americans on the issue over the years.