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White House confirms Biden will keep embassy in Jerusalem

Senate support last week was overwhelming to keep embassy put

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said President Joe Biden has not spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Jan. 20.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said President Joe Biden has not spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Jan. 20. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House confirmed Tuesday that President Joe Biden intends to keep the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, where it was relocated during the Trump administration. The issue of where to locate the embassy has been a fixture of negotiations over Israeli and Palestinian territory and authority for decades.

A White House spokesperson confirmed to CQ Roll Call the administration’s intentions, following up on a query from last Friday’s White House press briefing.

“The U.S. position is that our embassy will remain in Jerusalem, which we recognize as Israel’s capital,” the spokesperson said. “The ultimate status of Jerusalem is a final status issue which will need to be resolved by the parties in the context of direct negotiations.”

The Senate voted 97-3 last week during the budget “vote-a-rama” in favor of an amendment supportive of the location of the embassy. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in response to questioning during his Jan. 19 confirmation hearing that the embassy would remain in Jerusalem, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had not been definitive on Friday.

The lack of clarity from the White House had prompted criticism over the weekend from freshman Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., who was U.S. ambassador to Japan under President Donald Trump.

“This question was posed because, on the previous day, the United States Senate had sent an unequivocal signal on this topic,” Hagerty wrote in a Saturday letter to Biden. “In order to correct the discrepancy that unfortunately now exists between our two branches of government and send an unequivocal message to our allies in Israel, I urge you to confirm — immediately and publicly — that your Administration will continue to implement U.S. law and maintain the American Embassy’s location in Jerusalem.”

The amendment to the budget resolution was led by Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. Only Sens. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., opposed the amendment.

In moving the embassy, the Trump administration followed through on provisions of a 1995 law known as the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Implementation had previously been suspended by presidents of both parties, which had kept the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv.

Blinken said Monday that while Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the transition, the two men have not spoken since the president took office on Jan. 20.

“I’m sure that they’ll have occasion to speak in the near future,” Blinken told CNN. Netanyahu is currently facing a corruption trial that has dominated headlines in Israel. He has pleaded not guilty.

Asked whether the Biden administration would support a capital for the Palestinian people being located in East Jerusalem, Blinken reiterated the need for negotiations.

“What we have to see happen is for the parties to get together directly and negotiate these so-called final status issues,” he said. “That’s the objective. And, as I said, we’re unfortunately a ways away from that at this point in time.”

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