Written by By Jineea Butler, CNN
Tel Aviv (AFP) – Israel’s Foreign Ministry hit back on Thursday against reports a plan to open a US Consulate in East Jerusalem has been scrapped, dismissing the idea as a diplomatic smokescreen.
“Any proposal to establish the American consulate in East Jerusalem is baseless,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely said in a statement, according to the semi-official Haaretz newspaper.
The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported earlier Thursday that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told a US delegation that the idea had been scrapped.
Another plan, the establishment of an embassy in East Jerusalem instead of in Tel Aviv, remains in place, however, the current US envoy, David Friedman, is pushing for the transition to occur as planned, the report said.
Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967, but Palestinian leaders consider the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — areas they control — as part of their future state.
Netanyahu in 2015 pledged that Israel would never relinquish the territories, and so announced plans to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future state.
Netanyahu also said in February that Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank — illegal under international law — was part of an “ongoing effort” to establish a future Palestinian state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu oversees the settlement program in the West Bank. Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
His comments came after US President Donald Trump backtracked on a campaign pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The president said in May that his administration was reviewing a plan to have the embassy in Jerusalem, but in August that plan was postponed.
It remains unclear why Trump reversed his decision, or whether his administration plans to open the embassy.
The move would have complicated the US’ relationship with regional allies in the fight against ISIS and terrorist groups, particularly in Syria, where Israel has carried out airstrikes in support of its Western-backed rebel allies.
In January, Trump promised to provide “fair and reciprocal” treatment to Israel. “It should be a great day for Israel, a long and glorious day for Israel,” he said.
Top diplomats have said building an embassy in Jerusalem, which is contested by the international community, could prompt another conflict and lead to unilateral action by other countries.