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Trump may travel to Israel for opening of Jerusalem embassy
[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump said he might travel to Israel for the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, marking a controversial move from Tel Aviv that the administration aims to complete by May.
"If I can, I will," Mr Trump said Monday in the Oval Office during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I'm looking forward to being there."
Mr Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem has strained efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, leading the Palestinian Authority to reject the US as mediator in talks.
Late last month, the State Department announced it was accelerating its timeline for the move to May.
Recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital is controversial because the eastern part of the city - home to some of the holiest ancient sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam - is also claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future state. Critics argue that Mr Trump was circumventing Israel-Palestinian peace talks, where Jerusalem's status was to be one of the topics for negotiation.
Congress passed a law in 1995 recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and requiring the president to move the American embassy to the city, but previous US leaders have invoked waivers permitted under the law to avoid starting that process.
"Other talked about it, you did it," Mr Netanyahu said to Mr Trump.
The US's peace efforts have been led by Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who attended Monday's meeting. Questions have intensified about Mr Kushner's ability to serve as an effective interlocutor after he was stripped last week of his access to "top secret" material.
The meeting comes as both leaders face increasing scrutiny amid criminal investigations in their countries.
Hours before the Oval Office session, Haaretz reported that longtime Netanyahu confidant Nir Hefetz would hand over recordings of the prime minister and his wife as part of a deal he struck in an ongoing corruption investigation. The revelation was the latest blow for the Israeli prime minister as the country's top prosecutor weighs a possible indictment.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, in an early-morning tweet on Monday reiterated his claim that the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia is politically motivated. Mr Trump tweeted that the inquiry was an effort by the Obama administration to discredit his campaign and benefit Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.