US in ‘beginning stages’ of embassy move discussions

US President Donald Trump’s administration indicated on Sunday that discussions to move the American embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem were “at the very beginning stages,” as Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly shared a “very warm” phone call, Israeli media reported.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a press conference that details regarding Trump’s controversial campaign promise to move the embassy would be shared “soon,” without providing further details, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The announcement came the same day as Trump and Netanyahu held their first phone call since Trump took office, in which Trump reportedly expressed to Netanyahu his support of direct bilateral negotiations as the “only” means to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pledging that “the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal,” Haaretz reported.

The White House said in a statement that Trump expressed the importance of “close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel,” without mentioning whether the embassy move was a topic of conversation during the phone call.

The prospect of an embassy location change has been met with applause by right-wing Israeli officials and strongly condemned by Palestinians and the international community. The move would in effect amount to American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, effectively torpedoing efforts to implement a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the “Judaization” of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.

The Israeli government has openly expressed its anticipation for a Trump presidency when right-wing politicians believe they will more easily advance plans to expand Israeli settlements and consolidate Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. The now Republican-dominated US congress already introduced a bill that would move the US embassy to Jerusalem, as Republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives for the first time since 2007. The US House of Representatives meanwhile approved a bipartisan resolution rejecting UN Resolution 2334, which strongly denounced Israel’s illegal settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory, and stated its unwavering commitment and support for the state of Israel.

Last month, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat warned that the PLO would revoke all previously signed agreements with Israel as well as the PLO’s 1993 recognition of Israel if Trump followed through on his pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Erekat reportedly said such a move would indicate the US’s acceptance of “Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem,” and further warned that “any hope of peace in the future will just vanish,” Times of Israel reported.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right as many Knesset members have called for an escalation of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and with some having advocated for its complete annexation.