Netanyahu noted that the controversial decision to move the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will happen sometime 2018. "My solid assessment is that it will go much faster than you think — within a year from now," Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during his ongoing visit to India on Wednesday.
But an anonymous official with the conservative PM's office backed away from that timeline when asked about it by Reuters. A new embassy will have to be built — no hasty feat, as embassies are very particular about their security. The logistics of securing a site and permanent housing for embassy personnel are also major concerns.
There could be, however, "interim measures that could result in an embassy opening much faster," the anonymous official mentioned. Israeli media has reported in the past that the US ambassador would spend some of his time in a temporary embassy in Jerusalem.
The official's claim echoes those from US leaders, including President Donald Trump. "By the end of the year?" Trump repeated when asked about Netanyahu's reported comment by Reuters. "We're talking about different scenarios — I mean obviously that would be on a temporary basis. We're not really looking at that. That's no."
The Israeli official said that Netanyahu meant the temporary embassy would be opened before the end of 2018. "The president and the prime minister are not saying anything different."
In December, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the embassy move was "probably no earlier than three years out, and that's pretty ambitious."
Israel considers Jerusalem to be the eternal, indivisible capital of the Jewish people, and the Holy City has been their de facto capital since they annexed East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six-Day War in 1967. The Israeli Prime Minister lives in Jerusalem and their unicameral legislature, the Knesset, meet in Jerusalem.
But the international community has never recognized the Israeli declaration or annexation. The UN officially considers East Jerusalem to be occupied Palestinian territory and has repeatedly condemned the Israeli presence there.
In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — but ultimately it fell to the US president to affirm the resolution. Every six months since 1995, presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama signed a waiver pushing the embassy relocation back, despite all three promising to move the embassy while campaigning.
Trump himself signed the waiver in the summer of 2017, but when it came up for renewal on December 6, he announced his decision to relocate the embassy. While most Israelis celebrated the move, many other nations in the Muslim world and Europe condemned the move as provocative and in violation of international law.