On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump refuted an optimistic claim by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of this year, but on Thursday, major US media proclaimed precisely the opposite; an embassy move by the end of 2018.
The high-speed flip-flop began on Wednesday when Prime Minister Netanyahu took a break from a diplomatic visit in India to speak to reporters, saying “my assessment is that the embassy will be moved much faster than you think, certainly within a year.”
When asked about Netanyahu’s comments just a few hours later, President Trump responded in the negative.
”By the end of the year? We’re talking about different scenarios,” Trump said responding to a question from Reuters regarding Netanyahu’s remarks. “I mean obviously that would be on a temporary basis. We’re not really looking at that. That’s no.“
As if to emphasize the president’s remarks, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told The Times of Israel on Thursday that an an expedited moving process was not currently being considered though a permanent site for the embassy was in the works.
“The US government is currently assessing the suitability of various Jerusalem sites for a future embassy,” she said. “For now, we have no updates.”
This was consistent with what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
told the New York Times
in December when he said that the embassy move will probably be “no earlier than three years out,” given practical considerations.
The story took on another spin on Thursday when the New York Times
reported that the US will indeed open an embassy by year’s end, suggesting that perhaps the president had not been briefed on this development.
“The State Department has since settled on a more modest plan to convert an existing consular building in Arnona, a neighborhood in West Jerusalem,” the NYT wrote. “That will reduce the cost of the project and allow Ambassador David M. Friedman and his staff to move there as early as next year.”
The article suggested that the president had meant that an entirely new embassy building in Jerusalem will not be complete by the end of the year. The contrasting statements may also be a sign of conflicting opinions on the subject in the president’s inner circle. The US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has been urging the president to fast-track the embassy move. Friedman is an Orthodox Jew and has a personal dwelling in the city. The president’s son-on law and personal adviser, Jared Kushner, supported this as well. Secretary of State Tillerson would like to delay the move in order to upgrade the security of the consulate building.
It should be noted that the consulate, located in the Arnona section of south Jerusalem, is a relatively new structure and is considered to be more secure than the current embassy in Tel Aviv.