Trump Denies Netanyahu's Claims That U.S. Embassy Will Move to Jerusalem Within Year

'By the end of the year? We're talking about different scenarios,' says Trump

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on May 22, 2017.
Mark Israel Salem

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. Embassy in Israel won't move to Jerusalem within the next year, contradicting a statement made earlier in the day by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump said in an interview to Reuters that the embassy move would take longer than that. "By the end of the year? We're talking about different scenarios," Trump said, according to the news agency's transcript.

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Trump then explained that "I mean, obviously that would be on a temporary basis" - perhaps hinting that while the embassy won't move in its entirety, some temporary arrangements could be made to allow more of the embassy's work to take place in Jerusalem.

He then added, however - "we're not really looking at that, no."

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Netanyahu said earlier Wednesday the United States embassy is going to move to Jerusalem within the year. This, he said, was based on what he described as a "solid assessment."

Netanyahu, currently on an official visit to India, made his comments to reporters on a flight from Delhi to Gujarat, the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Netanyahu did not say what he based the assessment on, but explained that the embassy plan is one of a series of unprecedented policy moves, including Trump's proposal to cancel the agreement on Iran's nuclear program, and the U.S. decision to delay a $65-million payment to UNRWA, the United Nations body that assists Palestinian refugees.

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"There are three things happening in the U.S. that never happened before," Netanyahu said. "One is moving the U.S.embassy. My solid assessment is that it will go much faster than you think: within a year from now. Secondly, there is a dramatic change vis-a-vis Iran. The president has made time [to consider a] necessary change in relation to the nuclear program. You know that this will happen. Canceling the agreement is what he said he plans to do.

"The third thing is to challenge UNRWA for the first time. For 70 years the organization perpetuates the Palestinian narrative and the abolition of Zionism, and this is the first time they [the Americans] challenge this. It's good that they are doing something that is challenging this organization."

The U.S. will withhold $65 million from a payment it was scheduled to transfer this month to the UNRWA, the agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees and their descendents in the Middle East, an official announced Tuesday. The U.S. will provide $60 million in aid, amounting to roughly half the planned sum of $125 million. This payment is the first in a number of sums the U.S. is expected to give United Nations Relief and Works Agency in 2018. 

The prime minister's comments Wednesday about the embassy follow Trump's historic announcement in December that the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital

That announcement ended decades of an American policy of neutrality regarding the city, sparking outrage among Palestinians who claim the eastern section of it as their future capital.

The president's declaration was condemned by leaders in the Middle East and Europe, who said they feared it would torpedo the future of the already-fragile peace process, and has led to sporadic but ongoing clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli security forces.

One of Trump's campaign promises was to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It's considered a volatile move that could spark serious violence which is why successive U.S. presidents have chosen to sign a waiver twice a year that officially delays such a move. Trump too signed such a waiver just after he made his announcement.