Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says President Donald Trump will move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, three years earlier than the timeline originally given by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
On a state visit to India, Netanyahu told reporters of his estimated timeline for the controversial move while flying from Delhi to Gujarat.
The Israeli leader said his belief that it would be moved in 2018 was based on a “solid assessment,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
But Rex Tillerson last month said that the movement of the U.S. embassy and its staff in Tel Aviv to the contested city would likely take at least three years, meaning that it might not even happen in Trump’s first term.
“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.”
The number of attacks in Israel and the West Bank has tripled since Trump’s announcement to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to new figures.
The move is controversial because the Palestinians seek the same territory to be the capital of any future state, and it hosts some of the holiest shrines in Islam and Judaism. These include the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims consider to be the third-holiest landmark in Islam, behind Mecca and Medina.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and the majority of the international community recognizes the territory as occupied.
It is also known as the Temple Mount to Jews, one of the holiest places in Judaism and the site of two biblical Temples. Jews cannot pray at the site as it is still controlled by a Palestinian-Jordanian waqf, or Islamic trust.
Netanyahu continued to list policy moves by Trump that he said were unprecedented by an American president. He listed a “dramatic change” on Iran, as well as the cut of aid to the Palestinian refugee agency at the United Nations, known as UNRWA.
“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,” he said, referring to the landmark nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers in July 2015.
“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 government announced it was withholding half of the total aid to the agency, only donating $60 million to its efforts. The Trump administration cited the Palestinian unwillingness to negotiate with Israel. The Palestinians say they never denied to negotiate, but their conditions had not been met, and any hope of negotiations nixed by Trump’s unilateral Jerusalem announcement.
“Given the long, trusted, and historic relationship between the United States and UNRWA, this reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle-East,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said in a statement.
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