JERUSALEM — The mayor of the city holy to three world religions delivered a message Thursday to outgoing President Obama: good riddance.
The mayor’s video launches an online campaign to encourage Israelis to sign a letter, which Barkat promises to deliver to Trump officials, urging the new president to make good on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy, from its current location in Tel Aviv, up the hill 50 miles to Jerusalem.
Barkat’s video pitch begins (in Hebrew, with subtitles):
“My fellow citizens, during the last eight years, the Obama administration has pushed for a settlement-building freeze, has surrendered to the Iranians and radical Islam and abandoned Israel to a hostile U.N. resolution.”
The video shows a clip of Obama saying, “There’s no magic to the phrase radical Islam” and another of him urging Israel to stop building settlements.
Obama, as has every other modern-day president, supports a two-state solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Obama White House considered the Jewish communities in the occupied West Bank to be “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace.” The rest of the world calls them “illegal.” Israel disputes this.
The video continues, with Barkat saying: “This week President Donald Trump enters the White House. Let’s all welcome him together as our friend.”
Then the viewer hears some rousing music, sees Trump mount a stage, watches a crowd cheering wildly and cuts to Trump addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby in Washington, vowing, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem …”
Barkat follows: “ … Thereby conveying a clear message to the world: Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital. Join me in signing a letter supporting President Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem and his decisions supporting Israel. Let’s make the U.S. and Israel relationship great again!”
Barkat paid for the video out of his own pocket. His spokesman Avi Lerner said the letter campaign garnered more than 10,000 signatures in the first six hours. Lerner said the video was not intended as a personal attack against Obama, but against his policies, which the mayor saw as unfair to Israel.
Israeli officials were outraged that the Obama administration abstained from vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution in December that condemned Israeli settlement construction and Palestinian incitement to violence.
Most of the world does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory. Israel annexed the eastern areas after winning the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The United States, like other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv and says any change must await the final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital of a future state.
Trump aides said Thursday that the new president might move quickly to move the embassy.
But there has been crosstalk from his new Cabinet.
Trump’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that she “absolutely” backs the embassy move.
But earlier, Trump’s pick to lead the Pentagon, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, told the Senate that Tel Aviv was Israel’s capital, in his opinion. Mattis said that he would “stick with the U.S. policy” that does not recognize Jerusalem.
U.S. allies in the Middle East have warned Trump that moving the embassy could have “catastrophic consequences,” inflaming religious passions and rallying extremists in the region.
Palestinian leaders have said it could “open the gates to hell.”
Israeli boosters for the embassy move have countered that Trump shouldn’t be intimidated by a bunch of threats and should show his support for the Jewish state by righting an old wrong and moving the mission to Jerusalem.