Donald Trump’s press secretary has claimed a decision has not yet been made to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Sean Spicer told reporters at the first White House press briefing the Government is “at the early stages in this decision-making process” – despite rumours an announcement could be imminent.
The President said repeatedly during his election campaign that he intended to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, despite warnings the move would violate international law and destroy the peace process.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Mr Trump by telephone on Sunday evening.
The White House statement, released after the call, made no mention of the US embassy, but an Israeli news outlet indicated the highly controversial move could be declared on the President’s first full working day in office.
In response to a question asking if the US embassy would be in Jerusalem at the end of the next four years, Mr Spicer said: “There’s a reason you go through a decision-making process, and that’s what we’re in the process of starting right now.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of – if it was already a decision, we wouldn’t be going through a process,” he added.
In September, Mr Trump told Mr Neanyahu America would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which would mark a decisive shift in US foreign policy.
Although Israel calls Jerusalem its capital city, few countries, including the US, accept this and most embassies are kept in Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem has been fiercely fought over. Captured by Israel in 1967, Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they hope to make in the West Bank and Gaza strip.
Israeli officials have said they don't want any move to be rushed, according to Reuters.
They believe the US embassy should be in Jerusalem, and Trump has said he will live up to his promise, but the decision has to be carefully thought through.
The practicalities alone are difficult. While the US government has several buildings in Jerusalem, including a consulate-general dealing with the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, it cannot create an embassy overnight.
Earlier in January, US officials and Israeli Foreign Ministry sources said the incoming US ambassador to Israel could be based in Jerusalem, while the official embassy building remains in Tel Aviv.
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