WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump told Arab leaders on Tuesday that he intends to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a decision that breaks with decades of US policy and risks fuelling further unrest in the Middle East.
Senior officials said Trump is likely to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday while delaying relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv for another six months, though he is expected to order his aides to begin planning such a move immediately.
Washington’s endorsement of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital would reverse a long-standing policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who all received phone calls from Trump, joined a mounting chorus of voices warning that unilateral steps on Jerusalem would derail a fledgling US-led peace effort and unleash turmoil in the region.
At the same time, a senior Israeli minister appeared to welcome Trump’s decision on Jerusalem while vowing that Israel was preparing for any outbreak of violence.
Trump notified Abbas “of his intention to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”, Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
Mahmud Abbas, in response, “warned of the dangerous consequences such a decision would have to the peace process and to the peace, security and stability of the region and of the world” and also appealed to the Pope and the leaders of Russia, France and Jordan to intervene.
The Jordanian monarch, whose dynasty is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, told Trump that moving the embassy there would have “dangerous repercussions” for the region and would obstruct US efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to a palace statement.
Jordan plans to convene an emergency meeting of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Trump’s new Jerusalem policy, said Foreign Minister Ayman al Safadi.
President Sisi of Egypt cautioned Trump against “taking measures that would undermine the chances of peace” and complicate matters in the Middle East, a presidential statement released in Cairo said.
King Salman stressed to Trump that any US announcement on the status of Jerusalem “will hurt peace talks and increase tension in the region” and said it would inflame Muslim feelings all over the world, the Saudi Press Agency said.
None of the leaders’ statements said whether Trump specified the timing of an embassy move, a notion that successive Israeli governments have supported.
But US officials said Trump was expected to sign a national security waiver — as have his predecessors — keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months, but would commit to expediting a move. It was unclear, however, whether he would set a date.
Donald Trump, who promised during the presidential campaign to move the embassy to Jerusalem and is expected to announce his decision in a speech on Wednesday, appears intent on satisfying the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped him win the presidency.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognised internationally.
‘A big mistake’
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who met US officials last week in Washington, told Israel’s Army Radio: “My impression is that the president will recognise Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, as the capital of the state of Israel.”
Asked if Israel was preparing for a wave of violence if Trump does so, he said: “We are preparing for every option. Anything like that can always erupt. If Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas) will lead it in that direction, then he will be making a big mistake.”
Turkey threatened on Tuesday to cut diplomatic ties with Israel if Trump recognises Jerusalem. “Mr Trump, Jerusalem is the red line for Muslims,” Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan told a parliamentary meeting of his ruling party.
Senior officials said some officers in the State Department were also deeply concerned and the European Union, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League all warned that any such declaration would have repercussions across the region.
A US official said the consensus intelligence estimate on recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that it would risk triggering a backlash against Israel, and also potentially against US interests in the Middle East.
It is also likely to upset an Israeli-Palestinian peace push led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, in pursuit of what the US president has called the “ultimate deal”. The initiative has made little progress.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2017