Middle East diplomacy: Tillerson begins talks with Israel and Palestinian leaders

By Ann Garvey

BBC News

The US Secretary of State is holding talks with several ministers Israel has doubled down on its position that there is no room in Jerusalem for an American Consulate for Palestinians, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepared to begin talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In a statement the prime minister’s office said Israel would also set no conditions on a future Israeli embassy. Earlier on Tuesday Israel’s Foreign Minister said American diplomats must be barred from operating in East Jerusalem if the US is to achieve an agreement. The United States recently quit the UN’s Human Rights Council, for what it says are the body’s pro-Palestinian stance. Mr Tillerson’s first official trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories comes after Israel and the United States angrily rejected President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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Mr Tillerson arrives at a time of deep unease within the region. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, have tried to put on a brave face since Mr Trump’s announcement on the relocation of the US embassy, which seems to run counter to long-standing agreements. Those agreements were reached in a 1992 status quo agreed by then-US President George H W Bush. Mr Netanyahu’s office described Mr Tillerson’s visit as “extremely important” to the future of US-Israeli relations. The statement also said, “Israel will not accept a framework under which the US leaves the door open to establish an American Consulate in East Jerusalem”. Al-Quds

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently having talks with his counterparts from the UK, France and Germany in Jerusalem. Mr Netanyahu expressed his hope that the G7 would come up with a unified position on the future of Jerusalem. He wants the international community to be unanimous over the permanent status of the city, and insists he has sole control over it. Mr Tillerson has already stated that it would be counterproductive for the United States to try to divide Jerusalem by building a new embassy on either side of the Old City.

Israelis opposed to embassy relocation in occupied East Jerusalem Israelis remain divided over the significance of the city’s history, but they overwhelmingly believe its status must remain to remain the undivided capital of Israel. Israel says: The government statement also said, “Israel will not accept a framework under which the US leaves the door open to establish an American Consulate in East Jerusalem. “Israel will announce to the US that should it come up with an alternative proposal to establish a consular office in East Jerusalem, Israel will approve an additional 300 staff positions at the US Embassy,” it added. Palestinian negotiators say they will insist the Palestinians have a right to choose their capital, and claim the only embassy that can be moved to Jerusalem is that of Israel itself. When the United States finally closes its embassy in Tel Aviv, it says it will lease the Jerusalem site from Israel until the city is decided on by a two-state solution. The majority of Israeli residents of Jerusalem feel this is by-and-large a non-issue. Israel will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in May, an event planned by previous administrations. It is the latest expression of Mr Trump’s promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem as President.

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