Erekat warns Trump embassy move would end peace process

DEAD SEA, Jordan — Moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would end the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned on Saturday.

The warning came two days ahead of a visit to Israel and the West Bank by US President Donald Trump. US officials have said that he is still considering the move, which he promised during his election campaign.

“We believe that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would mean the end of the peace process,” said Erekat, who is also second-in-command of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) during a World Economic Forum meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan on Saturday. Erekat met with former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, a member of the Zionist Union party, at the gathering, where the two expressed their optimism for Trump’s reported Mideast bid.

The Palestinians and the Arab world fiercely oppose a potential relocation of the US embassy, repeatedly warning that it could spark fresh unrest.

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat attend the World Economic Forum held in the Dead Sea resort of Shuneh, west of the Jordanian capital Amman, on May 20, 2017. (AFP / khalil mazraawi)

The new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who took up office on Monday, has expressed his backing of such a move, as have Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

There has been no movement so far on the pledge which would break with decades of American policy on the city. The international community, including the US, never recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem after recapturing it in the Six Day war in 1967. Israel claims the undivided city of Jerusalem as its capital while the Palestinians would like to see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Erekat said a Palestinian state without East Jerusalem as its capital would have “no meaning.”

An aerial view of Jerusalem, on December 12, 2013. (Flash90)

Erekat said Saturday that he “hope[s] that President Trump would give us a chance.”

“He said… he will not impose solutions on us or on the Israelis,” Erekat said. “(But) the fact that he is going to move the embassy is imposition, is dictation.”

This is not the first time that Erekat has warned against a possible relocation of the embassy, but his strong statment comes at a time when the Palestinians appear eager to stay on Trump’s good side.

Trump, who arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday on his first foreign tour since taking office, is set to visit Israel on Monday and then meet Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday.

The timing of the visit led to intense speculation as to whether he would use the opportunity to fulfill his repeated campaign pledge to relocate the embassy.

Trump seemingly backed off his promise early in his presidency. It was reported that his conversation with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the National Prayer Breakfast in February was instrumental to his decision to put the issue on the back burner.

Shortly after Trump’s visit to the region, he will have to make a decision whether or not to waive a 1995 law that mandates the relocation of the embassy but allows the president to exercise six-month delays on national security grounds.

The most recent waiver, signed by Barack Obama, expires on June 1.

Trump has placed a high priority on trying to broker a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.

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