Momentum appears to be gathering behind Donald Trump's controversial proposal to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after his spokeswoman said it was a "very big priority".
According to Israel's Channel 2 TV station, officials are actively looking into possible locations for a new US embassy – including the Diplomat Hotel in the Talpiot neighborhood of west Jerusalem, a privately owned building that is home to 500 elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The report, which came on Monday night and was echoed by the Jerusalem Post, said that the building would not be available until 2020, however.
Meanwhile Israel's right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday said that such a move would be "great". He said: "Regarding the idea of opening the US Embassy to Jerusalem, I will respond to this in one word: Great."
Kellyanne Conway, a spokeswoman for the President-elect, said in a radio interview on Monday that Trump "made it very clear during the campaign" that he wanted to make the move, and that she had "heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly".
Trump delighted Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September by telling him during a lengthy meeting that if he won the presidential election, the US would "recognise Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel".
While Israel considers Jerusalem its "eternal, undivided capital", the Palestinians regard the east of the city – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War – to be the capital of any future Palestinian state. Trump's plan effectively rules out a two-state solution to which the agreed division of Jerusalem would be key.
The US, the UN and almost every country in the world currently refuse to accept that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, with most major embassies functioning in the sea-side business capital, Tel Aviv. International consensus is that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, just like the West Bank.
In 1995, the US Congress approved the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which requires that the American embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, successive US presidents – both Democratic and Republican – have exercised a waiver delaying its implementation every six months since on national security grounds, and official US policy does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Palestinians reacted with anger and dismay at Conway's comments. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian politician, said he was "shocked". He added: "If the US takes such a decision, it will not only be violating international law, but violating a unanimously respected international principle that no country can annex another's territory by force."
Israeli officials say that Trump would have the power to enact the embassy law simply by failing to exercise the waiver.
"It's an excellent idea, and it's about time," Yair Lapid, an opposition right-of-centre Israeli politician, said. "We are sitting now in Israel's capital [Jerusalem]."
The Republicans' recently rewritten platform Israel-Palestine – regarded as its most pro-Israel ever – makes no reference to the two-state solution, or to Israel's 49-year-old occupation of Palestinian territories.