By: Ian Fisher; nytimes.com
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who had been closemouthed on the contentious question of moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, said on Sunday that the embassy “needs to be here.”
But he pointedly did not demand that President Trump immediately follow through on his campaign promise to move the embassy — made by many presidential nominees since the 1970s but never fulfilled.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and it is proper that not only should the American Embassy be here, but all embassies should come here,” Mr. Netanyahu said before his weekly cabinet meeting. “And I believe that over time, most of them will indeed come here, to Jerusalem.”
The issue seemed to be put off when Mr. Trump told Fox News in an interview last week that it was “too early” to discuss any move. “I don’t want to talk about it yet,” he told the network.
The announcement of such a move had seemed imminent after Mr. Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Officials told the news media to expect news on the embassy, and Mr. Trump, asked about such a relocation on the eve of his swearing-in, said, “You know I’m not a person who breaks promises.”
But Palestinian and other Arab leaders spoke forcefully against the move, saying it would amount to a formal recognition of the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, after its capture from Jordan in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Palestinian leaders said they would revoke recognition for Israel, and leaders on both sides worried about violence, here and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, and the Palestinians demand that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future state. No embassies are in the city. Most, including the United States Embassy, are in the commercial hub of Tel Aviv, and most world leaders say they will make no moves unless the two sides negotiate a deal on the status of Jerusalem.
While many Israelis say they would like to see the embassy here, few count it high among their priorities, and many say it is not worth risking violence now. Mr. Netanyahu has said almost nothing on the issue since Mr. Trump made his promise during the campaign to move the embassy.
“Great,” Mr. Netanyahu said last month on a trip to Azerbaijan. He went no further.
Marc Zell, a chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, which worked to turn out the vote for Mr. Trump among Americans living in Israel, said he sensed a change in the new administration’s stance after Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu spoke on the telephone a week ago. Mr. Zell said he had since spoken to American and Israeli officials, who he said told him that Israel did not see the embassy move as something that needed to happen immediately.
“It will be resolved,” Mr. Zell said. “As soon as they get the green light, the embassy will be moved,” he said, referring to the Trump administration.
Mr. Zell said it was of greater importance that the administration made no comment when Mr. Netanyahu last week announced 2,500 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank and another 566 in East Jerusalem. The question of Israeli building in areas beyond the lines of the 1967 war was one of the most contentious in Mr. Netanyahu’s difficult relationship with President Barack Obama.
“That is a revolutionary change in U.S. policy,” Mr. Zell said.
Mr. Netanyahu is expected to visit Mr. Trump in Washington [this] month.