Mike Pence Says Trump Giving U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem 'Serious Consideration'

Mike Pence
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2017. He said Trump's policy pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem remained on the table. Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday put the issue of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem back on the table, telling pro-Israel lobbying group that President Donald Trump was giving "serious consideration" to the issue.

Trump had promised on the campaign trail to move the embassy to the city revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians, but the issue appeared to have become a lower priority following his inauguration as he said it was "too early" to talk of such a move.

"After decades of simply talking about it, the president of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Pence told the pro-Israel U.S. lobbying group AIPAC.

Such a move would effectively recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The government considers Jerusalem to be Israel's eternal, undivided capital city. Previous U.S. administrations held that the city was contested and its status must be negotiated directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

After Trump's victory and the increasing likelihood of him making good on his campaign promise, Arab leaders lobbied his administration about the inflammatory effects of such a move, saying that it would inflame the Islamic street, only serving the interests of extremists.

Moving Washington's diplomatic representation to the contested city, shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims, would mark a "red line" for Jordan, the Hashemite Kingdom's government said in January.

Read more: Why Trump won't move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem—at least for now

The election victory of Donald Trump emboldened the Israeli far-right, calling his victory the end of the notion of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians, led in the West Bank by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, seek a sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip as territories for it. Much of the international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and supports a two-state solution.

Trump appointed far-right settlement donor David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel, and the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed his position on Thursday. Friedman donates to the hardline settlement of Beit El in the West Bank and, in a point to the possible move after his appointment, said he was looking forward to working from Jerusalem.

Yaakov Katz, a prominent leader of the settler enterprise, said Sunday that the number of Israelis living in the West Bank had grown to levels that rendered the reversal of the settlements impossible. He said the population of settlers in the territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War had increased by almost a quarter in the past five years to more than 420,000 from 342,000 in 2012.

"We are talking about a situation that is unchangeable," he said Sunday. "It's very important to know the numbers, and the numbers are growing."

As the far-right celebrated Trump's victory, Israel's right-wing government made its most ambitious moves in years in regard to the settlements. It approved thousands of settlement units, the first new settlement in two decades and passed a law that legalized outposts built illegally on private Palestinian land. Trump, who on the campaign trail said Israel should continue its settlement building, has changed tack since his inauguration.

But Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, himself a settler, said this month that the Trump administration had warned that there would be an "immediate crisis" between the two countries if it moved to annex the West Bank.

"We received a direct message… imposing Israeli sovereignty [on the West Bank] would mean an immediate crisis with the new administration," Lieberman told the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "The coalition should clearly state that there is no intention to impose [Israeli] sovereignty."aaaaaa