The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, is using his visit to New York to push one of his major plans for Israel's capital: Getting the new administration of Donald Trump to fulfill the president-elect's numerous promises to finally move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Israel capital.
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Trump has promised on numerous occasions, including personally to Prime Minister Benjamin 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."
Barkat said in an interview Sunday to the New York Times that he is optimistic that Trump will carry out his promise, breaking with decades of American policy not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Barkat was quick to congratulate Trump the day after the U.S. presidential election. In a letter he tweeted to Trump congratulating him on his victory, Barkat called the president-elect "a dedicated friend of Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel and the heart and soul of the Jewish people." He said he was confident Trump would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Barkat also happens to be friends with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and key adviser on Israel. They meet mostly in New York during Barkat's visits there, the Times reported.
Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 by a huge majority. The law requires the United States 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 is not the first presidential candidate to promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, 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.
Hillary Clinton too was on the record supporting the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem. Barack Obama has also regularly signed the waiver, the last time less than two weeks ago.
In the interview, Barkat said he had commended Mr. Trump for “his very clear statements” on moving the embassy. “It should have been done years ago,” the Times reported him saying. “My impression is, because I know some of the people and friends around Donald Trump, I believe that it will happen, sooner rather than later,” he said.
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 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.
Arab countries and the Palestinians are expected to react harshly if the United States does relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, and while Israeli leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu regularly speak of the need to move the embassy, they have avoided applying any real pressure on the Americans on the issue over the years; whether not to harm their relations with both the American administrations or with Arab nations.