US spat erupts ahead of Trump visit to region


Israeli Prime Minister Bennjamin Netanyahu on Sunday responded to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's noncommittal statements over moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"The things published on Fox New are a lie", the prime minister's office said in a statement Monday, according go the Jerusalem Post. Israel has held West Jerusalem since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, but the United Nations unanimously opposed its annexation of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Third Arab-Israeli War and its control of that portion of the city is almost universally regarded as illegal by the global community.

Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would not only keep an unequivocal campaign promise but would also be in line with US law, which three successive administrations have chosen not to observe over the past 18 years, by passing six-monthly national security waivers. Israel continues to expand illegal settlements on the territory that would be a part of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to join President Trump at the site during Trump's visit to Israel, but US officials preparing the president's trip rebuffed the request, according to Channel 2 TV in Israel.

President Donald Trump is to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the holy Christian city Bethlehem in a symbolic visit to the West Bank town at the end of May.

The new US Ambassador, David Friedman, just arrived in Israel and his first visit was to the Western Wall where he said he "prayed for the president". Friedman, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem, is expected to live in the US ambassador's official residence in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herziliya. "We believe Israel is willing, we believe you're willing, and if you both are willing, we're going to make a deal", he said at a joint press conference with Abbas.

Tillerson suggested on Sunday that moving the USA embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem might not impact the Trump administration's efforts to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

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The White House distanced itself from the alleged comments, saying in statements to United States media that they did not reflect the views of the adminstration.

Trump has said he is committed to mediating a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. "It's part of the West Bank", the Times of Israel reported.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas have visited the White House since Trump's inauguration, with the US President vowing to work as a "mediator" for Mideast peace.

"Political suicide" suggests that the price was related to concessions in the peace process, and one has to wonder whether Trump demanded a concession on East Jerusalem.

Republican Party mega-donor Sheldon Adelson was "furious" about comments Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made concerning the USA embassy in Israel, sources close to the casino magnate told Axios. It seems as if he actually supports Trump's position, which is to examine whether the move would help the peace process or undermine it. Trump has said he wants Kushner to lead the peace process.

However, beyond the red-carpet welcome and warm embrace the new president will get, it's still unclear whether Trump will come with tidings of a new diplomatic initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.